chapter  3
11 Pages

Globalisation, social work and health

ByPaul Bywaters

Social justice is a matter of life and death. It affects the way people live, their consequent chance of illness, and their risk of premature death. We watch in wonder as life expectancy and good health continue to increase in parts of the world and in alarm as they fail to improve in others. A girl born today can expect to live for more than 80 years if she is born in some countries – but less than 45 years if she is born in others. . . . These inequities in health, avoidable health inequalities, arise because of the circumstances in which people grow, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness. The conditions in which people live and die are, in turn, shaped by political, social and economic forces. (Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), 2008, Preface)

The essence of this chapter can be found in this statement. Health is a global issue. Profound injustice is apparent in differences in health and life expectancy between (and within) countries. Health should be a central concern for social workers because it is an issue of social justice, affecting the way people live It is also a central

social work concern because it is primarily social factors – the social determinants – which shape people’s health and their life chances generally. The disadvantaged social conditions in which most social work service users live and the discrimination they often face are refl ected in their common experiences of poor mental and physical health. Their poor health, in turn, further undermines their opportunities for securing the resources they need for happy, successful and healthy lives. The political, social and economic forces which shape these social conditions are partly locally created and maintained but they are increasingly subject to global forces which transcend national boundaries and to globalisation (Bywaters, 2009). Therefore, I will be arguing that social workers have to engage with the global dimension in order to make sense of the lives of the people with whom they work, to understand how their health is infl uenced by globalisation and to act coherently with others at local, national and international levels to enhance social justice and secure human rights.