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‘To understand inequality we first have to understand the power and privilege we have’

Reducing inequality has a profound impact on the quality of services, Stephanie Dixon told social workers last week.

10/10/23

‘To understand inequality we first have to understand the power and privilege we have’

Speaking at the Social Work Show in Manchester, Stephanie Dixon, Head of the Social Work Academy and Children’s Principal Social Worker at Oldham Council, outlined an approach to reducing inequality using the Social Graces model.

‘Equality, diversity and inclusion is about the fair treatment of everybody; it is about the full participation of people -- we often say it but what does it mean?

‘How we’ll know that we are making that difference is if every single person attends to their relationships whether that be with children, families and carers, and with partner agencies. It is also about how, if we are a supervising social workers, how we attend to inequality in that supervisory relationship.

‘To understand inequality we first have to understand the power and privilege we have. We get it not because we have asked for it but because of our identity and how we fit into society. So the starting point is about educating ourselves to notice privilege and tackle it in each and every relationship.

‘Have you ever been the only person of your race in a meeting at work? Have you ever been stopped by security for no reason? Do you have to think about accessibility before you go somewhere new? Is filling out your title, gender or sexuality on a form a worry or a frustration? Have you ever had to pass on a great opportunity because of financial difficulty or lack of a safety net?

‘If you have answered no to any of those questions, then you hold a certain privilege that you didn’t ask for. If your answer is yes, that is an obstacle that is not universal.’

The Social Graces is a tool used in Oldham Council to address inequality within social work supervision and care. Developed by John Burnham, a therapist, supervisor and trainer, it is a framework for understanding aspects of identity and how they shape practice, so professionals can be aware of how their identity influences their thinking.

Ms Dixon said that this original list has been expanded to 15 points where privilege or its absence are a factor: Gender, Geography, Race, Religion, Age, Ability, Appearance, Class, Culture, Ethnicity, Education, Employment, Sexuality, Sexual Orientation, and Spirituality.

At an individual level, ‘The graces can be visible or invisible, voices or unvoiced, but all have their impact,’ Ms Dixon said.

‘Are you in a team where there are lots of similarities? How does this impact decision-making?

‘Just because you invite a family in for a meeting, does it mean that family feels empowered. When you are sat with them, how might those family members feel?

‘If you can attend to the relationships you hold with an awareness of the social graces, you will see inequality can be reduced.’

COMPASS runs events throughout the year with seminars on topics like the above. The next COMPASS event is in London on 20 November, and you can register for your free ticket at https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/London/Book-Tickets

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