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Outline a number of perspectives on equality. Identify a perspective that you prefer and give reasons for your preference.

Dimensions of Equality

Equality is the most fundamental universal human right that is granted to all indivduals. The human right to equality has been in existence since the primitive times and with the advent of civilization, the various human agencies felt it was their utmost duty to ensure that no discrimination is made amongst the people (Richard 2017). For this reason, they felt it was essential to legally provide the right to equality to people (Thompson 2016). This essay seeks to define the meaning of equality and its setting in the wider concept of social policy. The paper then discusses about the various perspectives on the concept of equality. The paper also analyzes the perspective of equality that is found most suitable to me and valid logical reasons are given to defend my choice of perspective. The essay mentions about the different dimensions of equality. The essay finally concludes with the significance of the concept of equality and its relevant position to individuals. The focus of this essay on the different perspectives of equality and which perspective appeals to be the most suitable to me, justifying my choice with valid reasoning.

The very purpose of equality is to provide for an individual the right to live in a dignified manner. The concept of equality in itself is quite contradictory. It provides that equal persons should be treated equally while unequal persons should be treated unequally (Honneth and Rancière 2016). Thus, on the outset, the agency of the State seeks to make a discrimination amongst the individuals. However, such discrimination is necessary, as there are many small vulnerable groups of people, who need special assistance and protection from the State (Richard 2017). This ensures that everybody is given access to a level playing field and consequently, the results would be the same for the different individuals (Norman 2017). Thus, the main intention of the various States of the world is to provide equality of outcome to its citizens. This outcome essentially aims at maintaining a standard dignified living for the people.

When the issue about equality rises, the main question that follows is equality of what. John Rawls believes that equality signifies equal income, equal opportunities to education and growth. Amartya Sen, on the other hand, believe equality essentially implies equality of capabilities, that is, what are the real opportunities available to an individual. Cohen opines that equality is the equal right to self-respect and self-determination.

Perspectives on Equality

There are several dimensions to the concept of equality. The first dimension is respect and recognition. The basic expectation of individuals is that they will be respected and their differences will be recognized by the society. Thus, there is a need for the perpetuation of toleration, that is, people of different creed, gender, religious background should be allowed to follow their beliefs without facing any difficulty. The second dimension of equality is resources. All the individuals have an equal right on the resources of the society. The third dimension of equality is the spirit of fraternal solidarity. Individuals are highly emotive in nature; they require all the support and care that the society can give. People start to get attached with those they converse with regularly and this forms the basis of the attachment theory. The fourth dimension of equality is the political equality which is the obligation of the State. The State has to ensure that the various forms of oppression such as slavery, arbitrary arrests are eliminated. The fifth dimension of equality is the equal opportunity for education and employement. Every individual should have the freedom to acquire knowledge and compete for employment with each other from a level platform.

Various scholars have provided various perspectives on equality. Baker, Lynch, Cantillon and Walsh, in their book “From Theory to Action”, have provided one such important perspective on Equality. They divided the concept of equality, basing it on three significant approaches or framework. The first approach to equality is that of Basic Equality. This is the most preliminary type of equality, which needs to be guaranteed to the people. It involves providing the minimum deserved respect to people, allowing them to achieve the basic subsistence need for their survival and providing legal protection against any kind of inhumane treatment against them (Baker et al. 2004). This approach to equality is more individual based and does not extend to societal or structural inequalities. The second approach to equality is Liberal Egalitarianism. According to Baker et al. (2004), Liberal Egalitarianism is more societal based form of equality. Here, the agency of the State has to ensure the provision of a fair societal structure where there is equality of opportunity for everyone in the society. For this purpose, the State can initiate certain affirmative actions such as redistributing the wealth of society equally among the people by imposing progressive tax on the people. Progressive tax implies that those with higher incomes will be taxed more than those earning lower incomes. The third framework of equality is Equality of Condition approach. Where Liberal Egalitarianism is preaches about tolerating the differences or inequalities that exist among the various groups of people, Equality of Condition believes in removing inequalities as a whole (Baker et al. 2004). It acknowledges the existence of diversity and opines that different people need to be handled differently. Moreover, besides redistribution of wealth, there is redistribution of cultural capital and social capital.

Neil Thompson's Perspective on Equality

Another perspective on equality has been given by Neil Thompson (2011) in his article “Promoting Equality: Working with Diversity and Difference”. Thompson opined that treating people in the same way only led to the promotion of inequality. In order to promote equality, different people had to be treated differently (Thompson 2011). The existing differences among the people had to be acknowledged so that the State can take concrete measures to overcome such differences while preserving the uniqueness of the individual. Thompson analyzes the importance of equality on three levels – personal, cultural and structural. He interrelates them in order to understand oppression and anti-discriminatory practices. The first is the Personal Level. In this level, people are free to have thoughts of their own, to hold prejudices, as they believe (Thompson 2011). Such prejudices and biasness, for instance, racial discrimination or gender discrimination, can often result in the tendency to oppress others. The second level is that of Cultural Level.  In this level, people have a tendency to create a divide between the ‘others’ and ‘them’ (Thompson 2011). This leads to marginalization of a particular group of people. Racial discrimination often occurs at the cultural level. The third level of analysis is the Structural Level. This level takes into consideration the various political, social and economic factors that play an important role in perpetuating oppression (Thompson 2011). For instance, these factors culminate in the uneven distribution of wealth among the people.

A third perspective of equality is provided by Barbara Bagihole (2009), in her article “Understanding Equal opportunities and Diversities”. She states that instead of focusing on one aspect where discrimination can be made, such as gender and race, the State should make attempts to prevent discrimination of the people as a whole. This is known as intersectionality, where the various identities of people are looked at from a wider perspective. Individuals are taken in their entirety while preventing discrimination. This tries to answer the question – equality among whom. An important concern that arises is whether equality should be provided to people as an individual unite or to social groups as a whole.

Among the various perspectives on equality, the one propounded by Neil Thompson is the most compelling one. Neil Thompson has made an in depth analysis of the three levels where oppression is the highest. The prejudices existing at the Personal Level is so deep rooted that it has the ability to affect people at the Cultural Level and the Structural Level. For instance, the personal prejudices against certain races held by an individual in the early life, can manifest itself dangerously later on when the concerned individual fails to give due recognition to the people of other races. This might lead to conflict of interest and discrimination. This, thus, necessitates the State to take stringent measures to prevent discrimination in these three levels. Barbara Bagihole’s claim of looking at individual at their entirety is utopian. The identity of an individual changes with the change in social setting. The nonchalance received by a ‘black’ individual in the Eastern Hemisphere, transforms into racial discrimination against the individual in the Western Hemisphere. Hence, her claim of intersectionality is not viable as the identity of people keeps on shifting from one place to another. The perspective on equality stated by Baker et al., (2004) is ambiguous in nature. His claim of equality is based on tolerance of differences. However, in the contemporary times, where the spirit of tolerance is fast dwindling away, his analysis becomes redundant. Thus, in my opinion, it is Neil Thompson’s concept of equality which is the most preferred one.

Barbara Bagihole's Perspective on Equality

To conclude, it is observed that a major policy shift is needed by the State in order to reduce discrimination. It is in this scenario that the role of social policy becomes important. Equality can only be legally enforced when a policy framework exists guiding the State on its proper implementation. Social Policy is concerned with redistribution of wealth which is the prime requirement for ensuring equality in society. This will result in the reduction of poverty and economic distress prevailing in the society.  With respect to Ireland, inequality continues to exist in a large scale (Murphy and Kirby 2008). The nature of economic inequality is particularly rampant within the country (Barry 2016). This has aggravated the problem of poverty. Numerous children are unable to get the basic minimum subsistence needed for survival, resulting in their death (Knox and Carmichael 2015). Gender inequalities also exist within the country. This is evident from the fact that women are often employed in less remunerative work (Breitenbach et al. 2016). They are considered to be the care givers of the society (Lynch et al. 2016). However, equality is not only needed in Ireland specifically, but needed by all the people of the world. This answers the question – equality where? Thus, equality should be prevalent everywhere, and not simply remain bounded in one particular geographical territory.

References:

Baker, J., Lynch, K., Cantillon, S. and Walsh, J., 2016. Equality: From theory to action. Springer.

Barry, U., 2016. Gender equality and economic crisis: Ireland and the EU. In Economics and Austerity in Europe (pp. 98-112). Routledge.

Breitenbach, E., Brown, A., Mackay, F. and Webb, J. eds., 2016. The Changing Politics of Gender Equality. Springer.

Honneth, A. and Rancière, J., 2016. Recognition or disagreement: a critical encounter on the politics of freedom, equality, and identity. Columbia University Press.

Knox, C. and Carmichael, P., 2015. Local government reform: Community planning and the quality of life in Northern Ireland. Administration, 63(2), pp.31-57.

Lynch, K., Baker, J., Lyons, M., Feeley, M., Hanlon, N., Walsh, J. and Cantillon, S., 2016. Affective equality: Love, care and injustice. Springer.

Meisenberg, G. and Woodley, M.A., 2015. Gender differences in subjective well-being and their relationships with gender equality. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(6), pp.1539-1555.

Murphy, M. and Kirby, P., 2008. A Better Ireland is possible: Towards an alternative vision for Ireland. Community Platform, Challenging Poverty and Inequality.

Norman, D., 2017. Equality of What: Welfare, Resources, or Capabilities? 1. In John Rawls (pp. 169-192). Routledge.

Richard, J.A., 2017. Equality and equal opportunity for welfare. In Theories of Justice (pp. 75-91). Routledge.

Thompson, N., 2011. Promoting equality. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thompson, N., 2016. Anti-discriminatory practice: Equality, diversity and social justice. Macmillan International Higher Education.

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