There are a number of laws which outlaw discrimination in various forms such as:
- religious belief
- gender reassignment
This is provided by a hotch potch of statutory provision and generally imposes a positive duty on public authorities to promote equality. Social workers and other professionals are representatives of the state and therefore “public authorities”. Further, they are striving to provide an excellent service where discrimination of any kind has no place. However, this does not necessarily mean that service users will take the same view.
Equality and discrimination apply to everyone and from all angles. This can lead to confusion. You must give consideration to everyone in any context (including yourself) and make sure no one is being discriminated against.
As a social worker you have an obligation to ensure that services users are aware of their rights not to be discriminated against. Not everyone is equal. Vulnerable people and those with a disability may need more support than others to put them in the same position when it comes to leading a fulfilled life.
There is also the risk of “positive discrimination”. This is discriminating in favour of someone who is in a minority just to correct an imbalance. This is as discriminatory as any other form of discrimination and equally illegal.
Various key concepts of discrimination include:
- direct discrimination: when someone is treated less favourably than someone else in grounds of their gender, marital status, race, disability, age, etc
- indirect discrimination: a condition imposed that, although applied equally to everyone in practice, means that one group of people who can comply is considerably smaller than other groups.
- Failure to make reasonable adjustments for disability: employers and service providers are required to make reasonably adjustments to the physical environment so that disabled people are not substantially disadvantaged.
- Victimisation: this is if someone is treated detrimentally because of a complaint, allegation or have given evidence in relation to a complaint of discrimination
- Harassment: someone is subjected to harassment by their employer or someone acting for their employer on the basis of their sex/race/disability/age etc.
There is some permitted discrimination, although these are limited. Genuine occupational requirements such as a qualification or other requirement are permissible. There are also some specific statutory exclusions.
The BASW Code of Ethics prescribes professional responsibility for social workers. Workers must always be aware of their obligations and ensure they do not discriminate.