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  • Author or Editor: Laura Penketh x
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The fight against asylum and immigration policies and their punitive impact on young people and their families was given high-profile media and political attention when the ‘Glasgow Girls’ at Drumchapel High School campaigned against the detention of one of their school friends in 2005. Amal Azzudin played a key role in fighting for her friend to be released from detention and, in the process, engaged with teachers, other pupils at Drumchapel High School, politicians and the media, raising awareness of the way in which asylum seekers without leave to remain were being treated. The campaign was instrumental in challenging mainstream attitudes and assumptions, and informing policy debates. Amal, in this piece, discusses the campaign and her continuing commitment to fighting against racism and inequality in all areas of society. She offers an insight into the successes that can be achieved when groups come together to fight against oppression in all its forms.

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This chapter explores social work and women’s oppression, with a focus on gender and class. It discusses the lives of poorer working-class women, who are overrepresented as service users in the social-work sector, particularly in relation to childcare and child-protection work. The chapter also assesses the discrimination faced by women in the labour market and from the state, as well as its impact on levels of poverty, inequality, health, and wellbeing. In addition, it considers how welfare developments linked to the marketisation and privatisation of social provision have had a negative impact on the lives of poorer women. Throughout, the chapter challenges stereotypes of poor women that focus on individualistic and moralistic character deficiencies, and highlights the key role of poverty and inequality in shaping their lives. Finally, it examines how sexual objectification of women and young girls has reinforced discrimination within and outside the workplace, and how it negatively has affected women’s self-image and self-worth.

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For well over a decade there has been a marked increase in hostility towards Muslim communities in Britain, and Islamophobia has emerged as a particular form of modern anti-Muslim racism. This chapter draws on research that was carried out with Muslim women in the North of England to assess questions of Islam, gender and identity in modern Britain. It examines the impact of rising levels of Islamophobia on the lives of Muslim women, and their understanding of and responses to, rising levels of racism. There is a focus on issues of culture and identity, and the reasons why women choose to wear the hijab. The chapter also explores the ways in which social workers can, with insight and understanding, practise in a non-discriminatory and non-oppressive manner when intervening in the lives of Muslim women and their families.

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Anti-racist policies and social work education and training
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The publication of the Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence emphasised the institutionally racist nature of British society. Public bodies and welfare institutions are having to face the consequences of racism within their organisations. This task should draw on the earlier experience of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work’s (CCETSW) anti-racist agenda, whose initiative came under attack from government ministers, media commentators and sections of the social work profession.

This book describes and analyses the development of anti-racist social work education and training and moves on to a broader debate: it critically assesses the concept of ‘race’, the historical development and maintenance of racism in contemporary British society, exploring ‘race-related’ legislation and its theoretical underpinnings; it offers an historical exploration of the role of social work and its relationship with, and response to, the needs of deprived and marginalised communities; it provides an assessment of the backlash against CCETSW’s anti-racist developments from politicians, the media and sections of the social work profession, incorporating a debate regarding charges of political correctness.

Issues such as ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’ are critically explored, and the implications of these political processes on the anti-racist policy agenda are assessed. The analysis reflects on both the possibilities and limitations placed on establishing anti-racist policies.

Tackling institutional racism will be of particular interest to Diploma in Social Work students, social work practitioners and academics, social policy undergraduates and postgraduates. It should also be read by professionals at different levels in the policy-making process, particularly those working directly with, acting on behalf of, or pursuing, the interests of the black community.

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Racism continues to blight the lives of the black population in Britain today. It operates in the systematic discrimination which black people face in the labour market, and the housing, education and health services (Solomos and Back, 1996). It is present in the harassment that black people face at the hands of the police and the immigration authorities (Callinicos, 1993), as is evidenced in the fact that black people are more likely to be ‘stopped and searched’, arrested, imprisoned, and even to die in custody than whites, and are likely to be seen as perpetrators of crime even when they are victims (Bowling, 1999;Younge, 2000a). It also rears its ugliest head in the violence perpetuated against black people by racist thugs, shown most graphically in the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Michael Menson, but present on street corners, and in the violence against properties and homes across the country. As CCETSW noted, at the beginning of the 21st century racism within Britain is ‘endemic’.

Institutional racism affects the representation and treatment of black people within a range of state institutions. For example, the 1997/98 Labour Force Survey revealed that:

Unemployment rates were 6% for whites, 8% for Indians, 19% amongst the black community and 21% amongst Bangladeshis and Pakistanis [and that]…. More than 40% of 16 to 17 year olds from ethnic-minority groups were unemployed compared to 18% of their white peers. (The Guardian, 21 February, 2000, p 13)

For those members of the black communities in work, their earnings are likely to be lower than white people in equivalent jobs.

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CCETSW’s Paper 30 was a brave and remarkable attempt to move beyond assimilationist and multicultural perspectives to challenge institutional racism within social work education, training and practice. However, its anti-racist initiative received a mixed response among practitioners who, as a group of professionals, do not share the same perspective regarding the role of social work in society. As Robert Pinker, an opponent of Paper 30, states:

The possibility that staff and students might have ethical views of their own about such matters never seemed to concern the council. (Pinker, 1999, p 17)

In a sense, Pinker was right. Social work has always consisted of competing perspectives over, for example, its place within the welfare establishment, its attitude towards family values or the relative merits of its ‘caring’ and ‘controlling’ aspects. For ease of understanding, we can identify three broad perspectives concerning social work’s role and function in society: ‘conservative’, ‘social democratic’ and ‘radical’. Each of these offers a different analysis of the role of social work and its relationship with its mainly poor and disadvantaged client groups, and hence, I will suggest they were always likely to respond differently to various anti-discriminatory initiatives. In order to understand social work’s response to CCETSW’s anti-racist developments, it is necessary to analyse historically how the differing social work perspectives emerged, and their underlying assumptions.

Social work developed in the context of both industrialisation and urbanisation. Industrialisation created new demands for labour and redefined the categories of people who could be seen as suitable workers, marginalising those who were not part of the labour market.

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Social work, as we have noted, is a contradictory practice, and there are a number of perspectives (within the academy and the profession at large) over its appropriate roles, functions and activities. Yet by the late 1980s CCETSW had established a number of clear rules and regulations over the training content and programmes of the new Diploma in Social Work. Central to these developments was the requirement for students to be taught and to be able to facilitate anti-oppressive practice, accompanied by the claim that racism was endemic in British society. As we have noted, this was an important and radical development and it is worth establishing where these ideas developed and why.

A first point to consider is why the anti-racist commitment should have been incorporated within social work education and training at a time when the political climate in Britain was generally hostile to such concerns. This was a period when the Thatcherite project was apparently in full swing (Hall and Jacques, 1983; Gamble, 1988). According to Gamble (1988), part of the Thatcherite political agenda was to establish a new hegemony around a commitment to a free economy and a strong state, and for Hall (1985), central to obtaining such hegemony was the development of an authoritarian populist ideology, within which were implicit references to the ‘traditional values’ of family, nationhood and ‘race’. Thatcherism clearly represented a new political formation, drawing on the tradition of “organic, patriotic Toryism” combined with “a virulent brand of neo-liberal economics and an aggressive religion of the market” (Hall, 1985, p 16), and was a relatively successful attempt to move mainstream political thinking in this direction, shaping a new party political consensus which would seem to be continuing, with some minor countervailing trends, under the present New Labour government (Ludlam and Smith, 1996; Lavalette and Mooney, 1999).

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In 1990 and 1991, at the time that CCETSW was introducing Paper 30, a research project was set up at the University of Central Lancashire to investigate its implementation. The research was based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with black and white students from the first two cohort years of the Diploma in Social Work, and with their respective practice teachers. Each student was interviewed three times while they were on placement, in order to ascertain if, over a period of two years, the developments were having an impact on education, training and practice within agencies.

As we have noted, the rules and regulations for the Diploma in Social Work required practice teachers and the institutions in which they were located to enable students (both black and white) to effectively carry out anti-racist practice. The process of implementing the research immediately confirmed the nature of institutional racism in social work agencies, identified as the systematic outcome of institutional systems and routine practices which, in effect, discriminate against members of ethnic minority populations (Williams, 1985; Husband, 1991). As Husband has noted, this can lead:

… to the unhappy consequence that nice people can be accused of being culpable of participating in generating racist outcomes [and that] it is very disquieting for anyone to be told that independently of their own sense of personal agency they are perpetuating a form of racist practice. (Husband, 1991, p 53)

The research revealed three institutional indicators as being instrumental in reinforcing and reproducing racism in social work agencies: the representation of black clients within agencies, the representation of black staff, and the effectiveness of anti-discriminatory policies.

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It became increasingly evident as interviews with students progressed that the relationship with the practice teacher was the most important factor in determining a student’s general experiences on placement, and also their ability to address issues of ‘race’ and anti-racist social work practice. As noted earlier, Paper 26.3 of the Rules and Regulations for the Diploma in Social Work charged practice teachers with a significant responsibility in facilitating anti-oppressive social work practice, of theorising anti-racist practice, and of keeping up with theoretical debates and developments in this area.

Practice teachers have a great deal of influence in structuring the placement experiences of students and their learning opportunities, and ultimately they are responsible for assessing whether students pass or fail their placements. As such, they have a great deal of power in determining to what extent issues of anti-racist practice reach the placement agenda. The practice teachers interviewed as part of this research project had little knowledge or awareness about ‘race’ and the implementation of anti-racist practice, and many of them exhibited varying degrees of anxiousness and defensiveness when the issues were raised. Many students differentiated between what they called ‘traditional’ (or conservative) and ‘radical’ practice teachers (see the discussion in Chapter Two). They felt that the more ‘radical’ social workers and practice teachers were ‘open’ to anti-racist social work practice and more concerned about other forms of discrimination in social work departments. Conversely, conservative practice teachers tended to be more hostile and defensive, not just about ‘race’, but about a diverse set of oppressions and systemic disadvantages.

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The previous two chapters have revealed the extent to which students were dependent on the support of their practice teachers while on placement, particularly in relation to developing and implementing CCETSW’s anti-racist requirements. The evidence, however, revealed that only a minority of students felt that their practice teachers were receptive and sympathetic to anti-racist developments. Most others were not confident that practice teachers had the knowledge, awareness or understanding to facilitate anti-oppressive practice, and in some cases felt they were overtly hostile to the issues. As well as interviewing students, the research project involved interviews with each student’s practice teacher once during the placement process. The purpose of these interviews was to explore if they were aware of CCETSW’s anti-racist programme, if agencies were able to facilitate anti-racist learning opportunities, and if there were institutional barriers to CCETSW’s developments.

Their responses revealed that none had experienced any substantial education or training in the field of anti-racist practice, which had serious consequences for students, but also had negative implications for the experiences of practice teachers themselves. For example, most had never explored ‘race’, racism and anti-racist practice, but were nevertheless expected to undertake anti-discriminatory supervision with little or no constructive preparation or agency support. This led to a situation where many practice teachers felt vulnerable, threatened and confused in relation to both black student supervision and anti-racist practice. Another barrier appeared to be the fear of practice teachers that to display such vulnerabilities could challenge their personal and professional credentials. As a result, it was only those practice teachers who had a personal commitment to anti-discriminatory practice who were confident in facilitating anti-racist supervision.

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