Whether the terms “socially disadvantaged” must be defined. Although

Whether or not
should the disadvantaged get special treatment has been a long-time
controversy. While people from both sides
of the issue made sound arguments, I believe special treatment should be
allowed, as it is fair and could be beneficial to our whole society.

 

                   Before engaging the debated
topic, the terms “socially disadvantaged” must be defined. Although the
definition for the former varies in different cultures, according to the
European Institute for Gender Equality (n.d.), disadvantaged groups are “groups
of persons that experience a higher risk of poverty, social exclusion,
discrimination and violence than the general population”. To extrapolate, they
are groups that cannot gain equal access to resources when compared to the
majority of society.

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The less advantaged groups are given extra care not without
reasons. The fine line between special treatment and providing privileges are
that the former aims at empowering the target group such that they have equal
rights and opportunities as any other common person. For example, advocates on
pregnancy rights argue that pregnant women should receive special treatment
because if they are treated equally as men, due to male norms in workplaces,
women are actually disadvantaged (Kenney, 1995). On the other hand, giving
privileges is offering additional advantages to groups of people because of their
sociodemographic traits (Franks & Riedel, 2013). Assuming that the policies
aim to favour
the target group (or else will not be implemented in the first place), this
essay will discuss the possible scenarios, hence substantiating my stance.

 

                   To begin with, a social aid
helping 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 requires
the government and other social work organizations to intervene, the special
treatment will not be viewed as a privilege, but a necessity to equal rights
and opportunities. The disadvantaged lag behind in social resources, such as
job opportunities, access to welfare and education, not out of their personal
choices, and they do not have the power and freedom to obtain those resources
by their own effort. This is clearly not fair to
them, trying as hard as the majority only to yield much less. To improve their
situation and attain equity, society must empower them, allowing them to access
to major resources that the general public has
access to. Providing special treatment is a way of such empowerment, as it
compensates their natural hinderance in society.

 

                   For instance, single parents
who can be classified as socially disadvantaged can receive assistance in
various countries. The United States has been offering the Special
Supplementation Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children “for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding,
and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age
five who are found to be at nutritional risk.” (United States Department of
Agriculture, 2017, para. 1). By World Health Organization’s definition of the
right to health, every human is entitled to “a system of health
protection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest
attainable level of health.” (2015, para. 2). Since proper nutrition is one of
the key factors to a healthy body, children under malnutrition because of low
income are deprived of the right to health. Thus, it is morally correct for the
government to spend resources for their nutritional care. Apart from
nutritional needs, single parents find it challenging to put bread on the table
when they must single-handedly nurture their children simultaneously. This puts
single parents at a disadvantage, unable to compete fairly in the job market.
Thankfully, non-government organizations such as Hong Kong Federation of
Women’s Centres offered a variety of vocational training courses, hopefully
helping single mothers to gain a competitive
edge, be employed and at last achieve economic autonomy (“Women Re-employment
Scheme”, n.d.).

 

                   Secondly, it is possible that
providing special treatment to some groups can benefit whole society, the
non-disadvantaged included. Possible outcomes include boosting the economy and
promoting social harmony.

 

                   Providing special treatments
is an investment of the government to some socially vulnerable groups to reap
their economic benefits. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF)
economists, Ostry, Berg & Tsangarides (2014), shown that income inequality
is detrimental to economic growth. The report discovered that countries with a
smaller income gap had better growth than those with widening gaps. The reason
behind is that wider gaps will give rise to global financial crises by
intensive leverage, overly-extended credit, etc. (Ostry, Berg &
Tsangarides, 2014). To solve the problem, the professionals suggested redistributing wealth through subsidizing
health and education welfare, as well as establishing a more progressive tax
system. These are evidence that the
government intervening to offer the disadvantaged extra help is not a waste of
monetary resources, but a better investment for the country.

 

Moreover, the disadvantaged groups are nowhere less capable than
any other person—they simply do not have the chance to explore their talents
and live up to their true potentials. By providing them with employment
training, the less advantaged can truly live out the lives they want—not the
lives they are forced to have—get educated and trained, hence compete with
other members of society on equal footing. Such increase in higher-skilled and
better-educated labour force can supply
manpower to various industries, boosting the economy. Some social enterprises
are advocates in introducing the socially disadvantaged groups back in the job
market. The New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (n.d.) has a branch
of catering services which aims at giving rehabilitated patients with mental diseases chances to train and work. Such a special
treatment allows patients to re-adjust to society, where they become a part of
the labour force and no longer burdens.

 

                   Special treatment is also a
means to make society more harmonious, as it closes the gap between the
disadvantaged and the majority of society and appeases their demands,
effectively reducing social discontent and as a result prevents conflicts
between the more and less advantaged groups. When the disadvantaged feel inferior to the rest of society, they
naturally experience resentment towards oneself and others. Some may blame the
government for not assisting the needy, while some converts resentment to
depression and frustration. Consequently, either the disadvantaged group starts
protesting, or they dwell in anger. If their problems are not resolved, their
fury will only simmer, leading to increasingly aggressive protests and more and
more discontented people. Such scenarios are clearly not what we should see in
a balanced and healthy society. Therefore, through special treatment, we can
cater to the needs of the disadvantaged, or at least establish support groups
to lift their spirits. This should calm the people, allowing them to live a
happier, freer life, hence create a more harmonious, happier society.

 

                   In 2001, ethnic minorities in
America voiced out their demand to change when there are only 2 out of 32 black
head coaches left in the National Football League (NFL). As Mehri and Cochran,
two civil right attorneys, discovered
that black coaches had fewer odds to be
employed even with a better winning record, the Rooney Rule was soon created
(Freedman, 2014). The Rooney Rule required the NFL to interview at least one
ethnic minority candidates when hiring to fill job vacancies, despite not having
quotas or preferences in the interview process (Reid, 2011). The Rooney Rule
forcing employers to interview minorities can be seen as a special treatment for minor
ethnic groups. This policy was made in response to the discontent of minorities
back in the 2000s. It had appeased the dissatisfaction of the crowd as
expected, and similar policies can be found in modern society, an example of
which are the racial quotas in workplaces
in the USA (Frum, 2000).

 

                   Despite the advantages
providing special treatment can bring about, people who oppose special treatment questions the effectiveness of such a
policy, maybe even arguing that it hinders the development of society. Some
suggest that those who receive special treatments are robbers of resources and that extra care of some people is, in fact, positive discrimination, which
embarrasses the more vulnerable groups.

 

                   There are voices saying that people
get lazy because special treatment can
take care of their basic needs. As social
welfare provides help only to the people in need, it can be seen as a
large-scale of special treatment. Sometimes, social welfare can be abused,
resulting in a waste of resources. It was reported that in Britain, one million
adults capable of working chose to live out of unemployment benefits (Kirkup,
2013). Such figures raised people’s eyebrows—out-of-job allowances, which comes
from taxpayers’ income, are supposed to
be supporting those who are struggling to seek jobs. Instead, special treatment
encouraged laziness instead. Similar cases happened in America, where former
president Obama admitted that “people weren’t encouraged to work…were just
getting a check and over time their
motivation started to diminish.” (Sheffield, 2011) Undeniably, since the USA
started social welfare in the 1960s, although government welfare spending has
been 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 who
receive care just for the benefit is not really disadvantaged in the first
place. Being disadvantaged is a state, not a personal choice. It should not be
a will of any rational person. Hence the “leeches” of society should not occupy
a large percentage of welfare recipients. For the mentioned case in Britain,
although a million spent years on benefits, three-fifths
of them are not able to work out of legitimate reasons, being a lone parent or
applying for other allowances just to name a few (Ramesh, 2013). Hence, to cut
social welfare lest it should feed the lazy is comparable to throwing away the
baby with the bathwater. Moreover, the government is already working on
combating welfare dependency. A typical method is to have stricter requirements
for having government allowances. For example, lawmakers in Missouri had cut
the duration for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from five years to
three years nine months, in hope of pushing welfare recipients to find jobs (Brown, 2015). It seems that society
has the antidote for fighting the negative side effects of special treatment.

 

                   Another reason for people to
criticise special treatment is that it creates discrimination and negative labeling. Even though extra care is provided
for the disadvantaged for their own good, they may refuse to accept the care
since they are afraid of how people will view them. Some citizens refused to
apply 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 may
reject help from the government or non-profit making organizations, or may not
admit receiving assistance from the mentioned authorities. This problem stems
from the fact that special care is arranged for helping the weaker group in
society. Therefore, people who do not need special treatment may infer that the
people who receive special treatment are
the people with special needs. This combined with the effect of stereotyping can cause the disadvantaged to be
negatively perceived. Not only are the disadvantaged regarded as thieves of
resources as mentioned in the above, they receive discrimination due to their
social statuses.

 

The report from Oxfam Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic
University (2007) discovered citizens without experiences of applying for the
Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) generally had biases towards
CSSA applicants. Oxfam Hong Kong reported that such interviewees believed CSSA recipients
abusing the assistance was very common. Some interviewees even agreed that the
CSSA would provide recipients with a large sum of money, even more than salary
earned from work, which was why recipients chose not to work. Apart from that,
the interviewees connected the recipients to other negative traits, such as
laziness and burdens of society (Oxfam Hong Kong & Hong Kong Polytechnic
University, 2007). The combined effect of bias and stereotypes was distressing
to 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 in
society (Upton-McLaughlin, 2013), exacerbates the situation. Oxfam’s report had  shown
that CSSA recipients found themselves accepting government’s help was shameful,
awkward and indecent. This explained why those disadvantaged citizens avoided
social gatherings, afraid of others finding out their situation.

 

 To summarize, not only do
the disadvantaged fail to benefit from the social assistance, they even receive poor impact on their image and
self-confidence. This could result in self-stigma, which gives rise to
self-pity and worthlessness. This could lead to recipients losing work
motivation, hence further conforms to the public’s stereotypes, completing the
vicious circle.

 

However, the advantages of providing special treatment outweigh its disadvantages. Had the disadvantaged
not received extra care, their difficulties faced in their lives would be much direr and more critical than the problems attributed
to having special treatments. Using the “Rooney Rule” case as an example, if such
a rule was not established, the minorities were
very 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 seeking
jobs, which would be unjust. Such hindrance
would have direct harm to the coaches, including discrimination, lower salary, and unemployment. On the other hand, applying
the Rooney Rule may result in workplace discrimination, that the coaches’
colleagues may implicitly bully the minorities at work. But with such an anti-discrimination
rule implemented, a clear message was brought out: racial discrimination is spiteful,
and will not be tolerated in the NFL. Therefore, not only will racists avoid
explicitly discriminating ethnic minorities, people will also learn that racial
discrimination is a shameful act. Although ethnic minorities who receive special treatment will also be looked
down on, the negative impact on them is surely less than not giving them extra
care. Also, society can combat the negative labeling
towards the disadvantaged receiving special treatment. As the report done by
Oxfam Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University has suggested (2007), the government
should comprehensively promote the CSSA to clarify that applying for the CSSA
is nothing embarrassing. Also, the media should write news about CSSA recipients
in a balanced, subjective manner such that the public can know both sides of
the 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 in
society for the sake of empowerment is just and fair, as long as it is not
overdone and become a privilege. This is because offering special treatment can
be morally correct, and it can be beneficial to society in terms of economy and
social harmony. It is argued that special treatment creates entitled robbers of
social resources and that special treatment,
which aims at negating discrimination, are in fact the root of negative biases
and labeling. Nevertheless, society is
already working on solving these bad effects. To sum up, I believe the
advantages of providing special treatments outweigh its disadvantages, and
hence is fair and should be carried out.