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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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4 Discrimination and anti-oppressive practice

It is important that social workers are knowledgeable about the law in relation to discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on ‘protected characteristics’ – people’s age; disability; gender reassignment; marital or civil partnership status; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. This includes, of course, being applicable to local authorities and governmental bodies, as well as to individuals, in the delivery of health and social care services. Being aware of the forces influencing and shaping social behaviour and cultural traditions is therefore essential, as these can impact directly on the ability to express and upon the means of expression of an individual’s unique characteristics and choices.

Neil Thompson designed a model for addressing social disadvantage, including discrimination and poverty, known as the Personal/Cultural/Structural, ‘PCS’ analysis (Thompson, 1997, 2006, 2016). This has been influential in social work. Thompson suggests that individuals are affected by what he calls ‘personal, cultural and structural influences’ which come together to impact on how we fit into the social world. Individual ‘personal’ factors include our experiences of being parented, and our beliefs and values. Then, what Thompson calls ‘cultural’ influences encompass broader shared approaches – such as what is seen as acceptable behaviour. Finally, ‘structural’ issues refer to the ‘bigger picture’ of how society is organised and include aspects such as government policy and the shape of the welfare state. Thompson’s PCS model for analysis is about action as well as thought. Social workers, Thompson argues, need to do more than understand how individuals are affected by social and other factors. They need to act on this understanding to challenge disadvantage and prejudice. The PCS analysis is set out in a diagrammatic form below, showing how the individual or personal experience is surrounded by cultural and structural influences.

This is a diagram showing three circles. The outer circle has the label ‘Structural’. The circle inside that circle has the label ‘Cultural’. The circle inside that circle has the label ‘Personal’.
Figure 3 The PCS analysis

Value relates to core beliefs. Ethics are concerned with conduct.