Social Exclusion and Discrimination

Category: Discrimination
Last Updated: 23 Mar 2020
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Do we, as citizens, have the ability to be included, to function and to participate fully in the varied aspects of today’s society? This essay will look at defining the terms described in the title by exploring research and theories that measure these problems. The essay will identify a group of people who experience one of these struggles, citing evidence to confirm this. The essay will also look at what can be done to prevent people being excluded, oppressed and discriminated against.Sociology is the study of human social behaviour, especially the study of the backgrounds, groups, establishments, and development of human society, and some theories help to decide why and how to choose between alternative distinctions (Payne 2005). Theories are statements of ideas, and Fook (2002) states that putting names to things help provide explanations and understanding of practice. Payne (2005, p6) stated that “ Because social work is a practical action in a complex world, a theory must offer a model of explicit guidance. ” There are different sociological theories on social influences, and these are interesting in their comparisons.

Emile Durkheim was a structural functionalist. He was also a positivist, believing that society conforms to unwavering laws and that there is an objective reality(Giddens 2001). He operated within a framework that sees society as a complex structure or system in which the parts work together to promote cohesion and stability (Dubois & Prade 1990). Structure in this context refers to any stable pattern of social behaviour; the function aspect is the examination of the consequences of individual actions for the operation of society as a whole.

This perspective basically perceives all different parts of a society come together and work as one whole part, in which power is underplayed. This could mean that if an individual or group does not work with the rest of society then they may be excluded. Howe (2002) explains that sociology would be the backbone of the structural perspective within social work and would look at the political, economic and material environment in which people find themselves.

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He goes on to say that this theory encompasses an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory perspective and that poverty, inequality and lack of social justice can seriously disadvantage some people and that these disadvantages can contribute to poor social functioning. Structural theorists maintain that these people are not a problem to society but that society has become a problem for them. However, functionalism is often criticized for not adequately explaining change, and placing too much order on order and stability. (Haralambos et al 2004) The conflict theorists view the society from an objective and hierarchical point of view.

In this perspective some individuals are inferior to society. The basis of social order is power or intimidation and the only way to change within the society is through a power struggle in which there is a lot of competition. Social class is extremely important in this perspective for it defines an individual’s place in the pyramid of power. Karl Marx was the originator of the conflict theory and described societies like Britain as capitalist systems whereby rich employers and business owners with capital set up businesses which exploit working classes to generate maximum profits (Macionis & Plummer 2008).

Therefore, according to this theory, the working classes could be discriminated against. Social exclusion is a multidimensional, dynamic concept which emphasises the processes of change through which individuals or groups are excluded from the mainstream of society and their life chances reduced. (Philip & Shucksmith 1999. ) There is no agreed definition of social exclusion, but there are considered to be conditions that many agree are contributing factors.

Shaw et al (2006) described social exclusion as affecting individuals or areas that suffer from linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low income, poor housing, bad health, high crime and family breakdowns. So it has been found that living in a deprived area can drive a person into extreme poverty and/or social exclusion. (Haan et al. 1987, p 989). Therefore, we can conclude that social exclusion is mainly associated with the above circumstances but it is also linked to a lack of social support, social position and empowerment.

White (1998) describes the processes leading to social exclusion - including economic change, demographic change, changes to welfare systems and processes of segregation and separation of certain minority groups. Social exclusion is not just about individuals, it can refer to whole communities within which everyone can be affected. For example, areas with high levels of unemployment and deprivation. Sooman & Macintyre (1995) reported that studies in Glasgow showed differences in self-reported health between local areas, with more advantaged areas showing fewer health problems.

In the mid 1990’s, this country was distinguished by high levels of social exclusion, with the highest rates in Europe of jobless households and teenage pregnancies (www. socialexclusionunit. gov. uk). Many of these figures worsened during the 1990’s and crime, poverty, exclusion from school and drug/alcohol dependency became significant problems. Nowadays, the concept of social exclusion is taking over from poverty. It does not just mean poor income, it suggests something more than social inequality and so it carries the risk of a multi-tier society or the relegation to the status of the welfare dependent. Robbins, cited in Alcock, 1997).

We could, of course, ask the question why is social exclusion a problem? Why should we care about someone who does not participate in key activities of the society in which he or she lives? (Burchardt et al, 2002). After all, not everybody chooses to conform to social norms. So, what if an individual has used their personal autonomy to deliberately exclude themselves from society? A recluse who prefers solitude to company, a youth who chooses to join a criminal gang rather than pursue a career, or the rich people who lock themselves away at the other end of the social scale?

Do all these people constitute a social problem, and if so, is it the same kind of problem as those who are socially excluded for reasons beyond their control? (British Journal of Psychiatry 2007. 191). There is, in society, an expectation that people conform to social norms, and if someone behaves or looks differently from what is expected then they could be subject to discrimination, whether their lifestyle is their own choice or has been forced upon them. To discriminate, briefly defined, means to victimize or favour a group or individual because of social, economic, race, gender or religious reasons.

The law in Britain recognises two kinds of discrimination; direct and indirect. Direct discrimination occurs when, as defined above, a group or individual is targeted for specific reasons. Indirect discrimination can happen when there are rules or regulations set in place which could exclude certain people. For instance, an employer may state that no hats or headwear are to be worn in the workplace. This could indirectly discriminate against people of certain ethnicity whose religion states that they cover their heads.

Discrimination and social exclusion have certain similarities and can be compared by drawing attention to the different types of social discrimination experienced by people. Discriminatory behaviours take many forms but they all involve some sort of exclusion or rejection. These behaviours can be looked at in different ways – for example, anthropologically. Anthropology as a discipline gives powerful insight to personal views and asks the fundamental question, how and why do human beings behave the way they do (Bronowski 1952) and compares the historical development of human society.

This can be used in social work by enabling workers to understand different human behaviours and why they may be a product of society. As stated above, discrimination and social exclusion can have similar aspects but a key difference between them are the consequences that can come from discrimination, such as the policies put in place to ensure fair practice for those people who could be discriminated against by illness, age or gender. The core examples of these are the Disability, Age and Sex Discrimination policies now in place.

These policies ensure that, legally, people can no longer be discriminated against for having a disability, being too old or too young or because of their gender. The social composition of a population affects the ways in which social discrimination is exercised. In a society with people of multiple identities, for example ethnicity and religion, individuals or groups are likely to face discriminatory problems in multiple ways. The extent and types of discrimination will depend on peoples’ status in the population.

Similarly, oppression is also multifaceted and can be caused by fear of someone different, or someone who does not conform to what is thought to be the norm in social standing. It is important to recognise the common themes across the areas of exclusion, discrimination and oppression. Thompson (2006, p40) stated that: “Oppression can be defined as inhuman or degrading treatment of individuals or groups; hardship and injustice brought about by the dominance of one group over another.

There are many parallels between the experiences of people with disabilities, gender issues, homosexuals and ethnic minorities but oppression and discrimination cannot be explained merely by peoples’ personal prejudices. Oppression does not derive simply from individual actions, it can be built into structural and institutional patterns and organisational policies. (Thompson 2001) The fact that we live in a highly stratified society means that inequalities are part of the social order and there are inevitably winners and losers. (Thompson 2001) Rooney (1987) gives an example of this.

He describes how a local authority used a word of mouth process to recruit home-help staff. When there were vacancies for these jobs, the existing predominantly white employees would be asked to pass on information of the vacancies to friends and/or family. This meant that knowledge of the posts would only be passed on to a predominantly white group of people, some of whom would be interviewed and consequently employed. Because of this, black and ethnic minorities were systematically excluded, even though it may have been unintentional.

There are many authorities and organisations that can be seen as being guilty of this kind of institutional oppression, with the ideas of powerful groups becoming dominant over the minority as quoted by Marx in 1845 “The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas. ” Whilst anyone can experience social exclusion, discrimination or oppression, it has been found that certain groups are more vulnerable to them and that they are all linked to a certain degree. It is usually a combination of factors that contribute to social exclusion, thus making it a multidimensional process and not caused by a single unique factor.

Madanipour et al 1998, cited in Byrne 2005). One group in particular that experience social exclusion are people that suffer from mental illness. It could be that the majority of negative attitudes towards mental illness are simply a reflection of the lack of understanding of various mental health conditions, and this could have a bearing on any initiative to combat such prejudice in the future. Link et al (1999) reported that though there has been some improvement of general understanding, the public, largely, does wish to maintain social distance from the mentally ill.

Hocking (2003) found that people with schizophrenia, specifically, were subject to discrimination in housing, education and employment. Although the public perception of mental illness has been studied vastly, there are few studies to date that concentrate on how the public perceive mental illness within the workplace. Williams and Wilkins (1998) reported that when human resources officers were given vignettes of job applications where the applicants had very similar skills and qualifications, applicants who described themselves as having depression significantly reduced their chance of employment compared to that of applicants with diabetes.

Baldwin and Johnson (2004) stated that workers with mental health problems were subject to a greater discrimination and suffered a lower employability ranking than workers suffering from a physical illness. Research also acknowledges that mental illness receives a greater amount of negativity than that of a physical illness. Britt (2000) reported that among military service members there was a strong belief that admitting to psychological or mental health problems at work would make them more discriminated against than admitting to physical problems.

Over half of the participants of the report believed that a military service member’s career would be negatively affected by admitting a psychological problem and just under half actually admitted that they would maintain a distance from a co-worker has he or she disclosed a psychological problem. Rush et al (2005) identified 3 known misconceptions linked to people with mental illness: i)They are homicidal maniacs that should be avoided ii) They are rebellious free spirits iii) They have childlike perceptions of the world

The most measurable of these is the first one – which could explain some of the exclusion, discrimination and oppression suffered by people with mental health problems. The government has encouraged action in the employment of people with mental illness through its action plan on social exclusion (Social Exclusion Task Force 2006), but levels of unemployment are still significantly high for sufferers even though most of them want to, and are able to work. They usually end up on long term benefit and suffer social exclusion in the form of deprivation, isolation and physical, as well as mental, ill health.

Social support is of crucial importance to individuals and groups with mental health problems, and, maybe if there was more trust between people, along with more community cohesion and empowerment, there might be a greater understanding of the difficulties encountered by people with mental health problems and society would discriminate less. In conclusion then, it would seem that there are many similarities between social exclusion, discrimination and oppression. All of these subjects evoke a strong, emotive response from those affected by them.

In the UK alone, there are still thousands of people who are in poverty, homeless or have mental health problems and who are consequently excluded from aspects of society or discriminated against. This is despite interventions from health and social care workers from all sectors, the government and educational facilities. PCTs and providers are working hard and making significant progress in improving the accessibility and quality of primary health care in order to keep people healthier for longer and reduce health inequalities (www. wdc. org. uk).

Community social work, which was used at the introduction of the welfare state, is going through a regeneration period and the introduction of Sure Start and Family Centres on what the government describes as ‘Sink Estates’ enables the socially excluded to access services and skills to enable them to feel part of society. As with all government initiatives, people regard services with suspicion but social workers are in a position to build trusting and therapeutic relationships within the community.

Therefore, although progress is slow, it is not unattainable. There is now evidence, however, which demonstrates that we need to go further to improve the way we meet the primary health care needs of the most socially excluded people within our society, as socially excluded clients often do not show up on needs assessments. The ‘Inclusion Health study (www. swdc. org. uk) has also produced an excellent supporting evidence pack which commissioners can use to help build the case for improvement.

There is a clear need for people who work with socially excluded people to stay within a framework of guidelines. For example, social workers need to develop an understanding of the problems that can occur within people’s lives and employ anti-oppressive practice in all aspects of care. It is possible that socially excluded groups feel disempowered and unable to do anything to help themselves and it is the duty of the social worker to hand back power to the service user whilst recognising the personal, cultural and social factors affecting the individual or family in question.

There needs to be adequate assessments linked to helping people to solve problems and a sound knowledge of what can cause exclusion or discrimination by using research based evidence. Howe (1993) emphasized the importance of process in evaluation and there are several ways to implement this; for example through personal perceptions, evidence from service users, colleagues and supervisors and advice from other professionals or individuals involved. In short however, the only way to eliminate exclusion of any sort is to raise awareness in the shortfalls of society and eradicate prejudice, bigotry and ignorance.

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Social Exclusion and Discrimination. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from

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