Whether or notshould the disadvantaged get special treatment has been a long-timecontroversy. While people from both sidesof the issue made sound arguments, I believe special treatment should beallowed, as it is fair and could be beneficial to our whole society. Before engaging the debatedtopic, the terms “socially disadvantaged” must be defined.
Although thedefinition for the former varies in different cultures, according to theEuropean Institute for Gender Equality (n.d.), disadvantaged groups are “groupsof persons that experience a higher risk of poverty, social exclusion,discrimination and violence than the general population”. To extrapolate, theyare groups that cannot gain equal access to resources when compared to themajority of society. The less advantaged groups are given extra care not withoutreasons. The fine line between special treatment and providing privileges arethat the former aims at empowering the target group such that they have equalrights and opportunities as any other common person.
For example, advocates onpregnancy rights argue that pregnant women should receive special treatmentbecause if they are treated equally as men, due to male norms in workplaces,women are actually disadvantaged (Kenney, 1995). On the other hand, givingprivileges is offering additional advantages to groups of people because of theirsociodemographic traits (Franks & Riedel, 2013). Assuming that the policiesaim to favourthe target group (or else will not be implemented in the first place), thisessay will discuss the possible scenarios, hence substantiating my stance. To begin with, a social aidhelping the disadvantaged and not deterring other members of society should be implemented, as this promotes equity.If the public generally agrees that the target group is powerless and requiresthe government and other social work organizations to intervene, the specialtreatment will not be viewed as a privilege, but a necessity to equal rightsand opportunities. The disadvantaged lag behind in social resources, such asjob opportunities, access to welfare and education, not out of their personalchoices, and they do not have the power and freedom to obtain those resourcesby their own effort. This is clearly not fair tothem, trying as hard as the majority only to yield much less. To improve theirsituation and attain equity, society must empower them, allowing them to accessto major resources that the general public hasaccess to.
Providing special treatment is a way of such empowerment, as itcompensates their natural hinderance in society. For instance, single parentswho can be classified as socially disadvantaged can receive assistance invarious countries. The United States has been offering the SpecialSupplementation Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children “for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding,and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to agefive who are found to be at nutritional risk.” (United States Department ofAgriculture, 2017, para. 1). By World Health Organization’s definition of theright to health, every human is entitled to “a system of healthprotection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highestattainable level of health.” (2015, para. 2).
Since proper nutrition is one ofthe key factors to a healthy body, children under malnutrition because of lowincome are deprived of the right to health. Thus, it is morally correct for thegovernment to spend resources for their nutritional care. Apart fromnutritional needs, single parents find it challenging to put bread on the tablewhen they must single-handedly nurture their children simultaneously. This putssingle parents at a disadvantage, unable to compete fairly in the job market.
Thankfully, non-government organizations such as Hong Kong Federation ofWomen’s Centres offered a variety of vocational training courses, hopefullyhelping single mothers to gain a competitiveedge, be employed and at last achieve economic autonomy (“Women Re-employmentScheme”, n.d.). Secondly, it is possible thatproviding special treatment to some groups can benefit whole society, thenon-disadvantaged included.
Possible outcomes include boosting the economy andpromoting social harmony. Providing special treatmentsis an investment of the government to some socially vulnerable groups to reaptheir economic benefits. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF)economists, Ostry, Berg & Tsangarides (2014), shown that income inequalityis detrimental to economic growth. The report discovered that countries with asmaller income gap had better growth than those with widening gaps.
The reasonbehind is that wider gaps will give rise to global financial crises byintensive leverage, overly-extended credit, etc. (Ostry, Berg &Tsangarides, 2014). To solve the problem, the professionals suggested redistributing wealth through subsidizinghealth and education welfare, as well as establishing a more progressive taxsystem. These are evidence that thegovernment intervening to offer the disadvantaged extra help is not a waste ofmonetary resources, but a better investment for the country.
Moreover, the disadvantaged groups are nowhere less capable thanany other person—they simply do not have the chance to explore their talentsand live up to their true potentials. By providing them with employmenttraining, the less advantaged can truly live out the lives they want—not thelives they are forced to have—get educated and trained, hence compete withother members of society on equal footing. Such increase in higher-skilled andbetter-educated labour force can supplymanpower to various industries, boosting the economy.
Some social enterprisesare advocates in introducing the socially disadvantaged groups back in the jobmarket. The New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (n.d.
) has a branchof catering services which aims at giving rehabilitated patients with mental diseases chances to train and work. Such a specialtreatment allows patients to re-adjust to society, where they become a part ofthe labour force and no longer burdens. Special treatment is also ameans to make society more harmonious, as it closes the gap between thedisadvantaged and the majority of society and appeases their demands,effectively reducing social discontent and as a result prevents conflictsbetween the more and less advantaged groups.
When the disadvantaged feel inferior to the rest of society, theynaturally experience resentment towards oneself and others. Some may blame thegovernment for not assisting the needy, while some converts resentment todepression and frustration. Consequently, either the disadvantaged group startsprotesting, or they dwell in anger. If their problems are not resolved, theirfury will only simmer, leading to increasingly aggressive protests and more andmore discontented people. Such scenarios are clearly not what we should see ina balanced and healthy society. Therefore, through special treatment, we cancater to the needs of the disadvantaged, or at least establish support groupsto lift their spirits.
This should calm the people, allowing them to live ahappier, freer life, hence create a more harmonious, happier society. In 2001, ethnic minorities inAmerica voiced out their demand to change when there are only 2 out of 32 blackhead coaches left in the National Football League (NFL). As Mehri and Cochran,two civil right attorneys, discoveredthat black coaches had fewer odds to beemployed even with a better winning record, the Rooney Rule was soon created(Freedman, 2014). The Rooney Rule required the NFL to interview at least oneethnic minority candidates when hiring to fill job vacancies, despite not havingquotas or preferences in the interview process (Reid, 2011).
The Rooney Ruleforcing employers to interview minorities can be seen as a special treatment for minorethnic groups. This policy was made in response to the discontent of minoritiesback in the 2000s. It had appeased the dissatisfaction of the crowd asexpected, and similar policies can be found in modern society, an example ofwhich are the racial quotas in workplacesin the USA (Frum, 2000). Despite the advantagesproviding special treatment can bring about, people who oppose special treatment questions the effectiveness of such apolicy, maybe even arguing that it hinders the development of society. Somesuggest that those who receive special treatments are robbers of resources and that extra care of some people is, in fact, positive discrimination, whichembarrasses the more vulnerable groups. There are voices saying that peopleget lazy because special treatment cantake care of their basic needs. As socialwelfare provides help only to the people in need, it can be seen as alarge-scale of special treatment. Sometimes, social welfare can be abused,resulting in a waste of resources.
It was reported that in Britain, one millionadults capable of working chose to live out of unemployment benefits (Kirkup,2013). Such figures raised people’s eyebrows—out-of-job allowances, which comesfrom taxpayers’ income, are supposed tobe supporting those who are struggling to seek jobs. Instead, special treatmentencouraged laziness instead. Similar cases happened in America, where formerpresident Obama admitted that “people weren’t encouraged to work…were justgetting a check and over time theirmotivation started to diminish.” (Sheffield, 2011) Undeniably, since the USAstarted social welfare in the 1960s, although government welfare spending hasbeen rising, the level of poverty has not changed much (Roybal, 2012).Seemingly, people who receive special treatments are leeches in society.
Be that as it may, those whoreceive care just for the benefit is not really disadvantaged in the firstplace. Being disadvantaged is a state, not a personal choice. It should not bea will of any rational person. Hence the “leeches” of society should not occupya large percentage of welfare recipients.
For the mentioned case in Britain,although a million spent years on benefits, three-fifthsof them are not able to work out of legitimate reasons, being a lone parent orapplying for other allowances just to name a few (Ramesh, 2013). Hence, to cutsocial welfare lest it should feed the lazy is comparable to throwing away thebaby with the bathwater. Moreover, the government is already working oncombating welfare dependency. A typical method is to have stricter requirementsfor having government allowances. For example, lawmakers in Missouri had cutthe duration for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from five years tothree years nine months, in hope of pushing welfare recipients to find jobs (Brown, 2015). It seems that societyhas the antidote for fighting the negative side effects of special treatment. Another reason for people tocriticise special treatment is that it creates discrimination and negative labeling. Even though extra care is providedfor the disadvantaged for their own good, they may refuse to accept the caresince they are afraid of how people will view them.
Some citizens refused toapply for government grants as they did not want to depend on the government,showing that to them, government assistance symbolized weakness and reliance(Chung, 2009). Not wanting to receive mean comments from others, they mayreject help from the government or non-profit making organizations, or may notadmit receiving assistance from the mentioned authorities. This problem stemsfrom the fact that special care is arranged for helping the weaker group insociety. Therefore, people who do not need special treatment may infer that thepeople who receive special treatment arethe people with special needs.
This combined with the effect of stereotyping can cause the disadvantaged to benegatively perceived. Not only are the disadvantaged regarded as thieves ofresources as mentioned in the above, they receive discrimination due to theirsocial statuses. The report from Oxfam Hong Kong and Hong Kong PolytechnicUniversity (2007) discovered citizens without experiences of applying for theComprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) generally had biases towardsCSSA applicants. Oxfam Hong Kong reported that such interviewees believed CSSA recipientsabusing the assistance was very common. Some interviewees even agreed that theCSSA would provide recipients with a large sum of money, even more than salaryearned from work, which was why recipients chose not to work. Apart from that,the interviewees connected the recipients to other negative traits, such aslaziness and burdens of society (Oxfam Hong Kong & Hong Kong PolytechnicUniversity, 2007). The combined effect of bias and stereotypes was distressingto the recipients, as reported by the study.
Unfortunately, the value of “face”in China, meaning the general reputation of an individual in the workplace, in the family, among friends and insociety (Upton-McLaughlin, 2013), exacerbates the situation. Oxfam’s report had shownthat CSSA recipients found themselves accepting government’s help was shameful,awkward and indecent. This explained why those disadvantaged citizens avoidedsocial gatherings, afraid of others finding out their situation.
To summarize, not only dothe disadvantaged fail to benefit from the social assistance, they even receive poor impact on their image andself-confidence. This could result in self-stigma, which gives rise toself-pity and worthlessness. This could lead to recipients losing workmotivation, hence further conforms to the public’s stereotypes, completing thevicious circle. However, the advantages of providing special treatment outweigh its disadvantages. Had the disadvantagednot received extra care, their difficulties faced in their lives would be much direr and more critical than the problems attributedto having special treatments. Using the “Rooney Rule” case as an example, if sucha rule was not established, the minorities werevery likely to be rejected in applications, let alone to be invited to job interviews.As a result, black coaches would have to face an invisible barrier when seekingjobs, which would be unjust.
Such hindrancewould have direct harm to the coaches, including discrimination, lower salary, and unemployment. On the other hand, applyingthe Rooney Rule may result in workplace discrimination, that the coaches’colleagues may implicitly bully the minorities at work. But with such an anti-discriminationrule implemented, a clear message was brought out: racial discrimination is spiteful,and will not be tolerated in the NFL. Therefore, not only will racists avoidexplicitly discriminating ethnic minorities, people will also learn that racialdiscrimination is a shameful act.
Although ethnic minorities who receive special treatment will also be lookeddown on, the negative impact on them is surely less than not giving them extracare. Also, society can combat the negative labelingtowards the disadvantaged receiving special treatment. As the report done byOxfam Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University has suggested (2007), the governmentshould comprehensively promote the CSSA to clarify that applying for the CSSAis nothing embarrassing.
Also, the media should write news about CSSA recipientsin a balanced, subjective manner such that the public can know both sides ofthe story, hence tackle stereotypes towards the recipients (Oxfam Hong Kong& Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 2007). All in all, I believe special treatment for the less advantaged insociety for the sake of empowerment is just and fair, as long as it is notoverdone and become a privilege. This is because offering special treatment canbe morally correct, and it can be beneficial to society in terms of economy andsocial harmony. It is argued that special treatment creates entitled robbers ofsocial resources and that special treatment,which aims at negating discrimination, are in fact the root of negative biasesand labeling. Nevertheless, society isalready working on solving these bad effects. To sum up, I believe theadvantages of providing special treatments outweigh its disadvantages, andhence is fair and should be carried out.