The European Foundation has defined social inclusion as ‘people’s capability to participate fully in both economic and social life’ . Social inclusion can be seen as the flip side of social exclusion. It came to prominence in EU documentation in the early 2000s and effectively replaced ‘social exclusion’, which itself had replaced ‘poverty’ as a policy concern in the early 1990s.
The three terms inclusion, exclusion and poverty are still frequently used interchangeably, with some confusion about the exact parameters of their meaning. The progression from a concern with poverty to a concern with inclusion/exclusion represents a policy evolution that has taken forty years. Policy has moved from a narrow focus on income and what money can buy in terms of basic human needs to a wider view of an inclusive, ‘cohesive’ society in which income inequality is a factor but where other issues such as discrimination and access to services have come to prominence alongside income. This broader focus comes at a time when European societies are becoming much more diverse along religious, ethnic, income, class and gender lines than was the case in the period after the war when many welfare systems were created.
As the scope of work in this field has widened, there has been an increasing recognition of the need to have policy address a wide range of fields and also of the importance of universal policies as against specific or targeted actions. This growing interest in the policy ‘mainstream’ has led to the adoption of the term ‘mainstreaming’, a term that originated in the United States in the context of children with special needs being included in ordinary rather than special schools. Its use is most widespread in the context of policies for equal opportunities between women and men. For social inclusion policy mainstreaming means that all policies need to be examined for their positive and negative contributions towards inclusion so that the positives can be enhanced and the negatives mitigated. Mainstreaming social inclusion is the integration of poverty and social inclusion objectives, including an equality perspective, into all areas and levels of policy-making and that is promoted through the participation of public bodies, social partners, NGOs and other relevant actors
From Poverty to Inclusion The United Nations defines ‘absolute poverty’ as a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. In the 1960s it became apparent that in many so-called developed western countries poverty persisted despite the relatively generous welfare state systems that had been set up after the war.
The United Kingdom was at the forefront of policy developments in this field. This was partly because the UK suffered severe industrial restructuring ahead of other major European countries. Having been the first to experience an industrial revolution, it was also the first to emerge and faced a long-term decline of manufacturing industry and associated unemployment from the ‘60s onwards. A series of anti-poverty initiatives were launched, often taking an area-based approach. These ranged from the identification of Education Priority Areas started in 1967 which targeted extra resources on schools in inner cities to the Community Development Projects, a radical approach in the early 70s that was perhaps the first to use economic analysis to explain the problem of the poor and unemployed not as the result of individual pathology but more as the result of structural changes in the manufacturing economy. These projects reinforced a growing tradition of community action, and were an early example of ‘bottom up’ approaches that worked by engaging local communities.
The sociologist Peter Townsend coined the term ‘Relative Poverty’ in his seminal work on poverty published in 1979. ‘Individuals, families and groups in the population,’ he said, ‘can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary in the societies to which they belong.’ The EU has more recently defined relative poverty in terms of relative incomes, and for statistical purposes fixed the numbers in relative poverty as a percentage of median income: ‘Relative poverty is also referred to as ‘at risk of poverty’: an individual’s, or group’s, living standard relative to the overall standard of living in the society they live in, considered within the EU as having an income which is 60 per cent or less than the national median income per adult equivalent’
The advantage of this quantified definition of relative poverty is that it enables comparisons of inequality to be made across Member States regardless of the average level of wealth.
The EU defines people in poverty (as opposed to relative poverty) to be ‘persons, families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the Member State in which they live.’
The emergence of social exclusion Social exclusion is a wider concept than poverty. It is normally taken to refer to the exclusion of people not from resources (as in the above definitions of poverty) but rather from activities, goods and services considered normal for the society in which they live. Paul Teague and Robin Wilson give the following extended definition of exclusion, one that emphasizes its dynamic nature:
By social exclusion we mean not just a static snapshot of inequality but a set of processes, including within the labour market and the welfare system, by which individuals, households, communities or even whole social groups are pushed towards or kept within the margins of society It encompasses not only material deprivation but more broadly the denial of opportunities to participate fully in social life. It is associated with stigmatisation and stereotyping, though, at first sight paradoxically, some of those who experience exclusion develop survival strategies that are premised upon its continuance. And it highlights the primary responsibility of the wider society for the condition of its marginal members, of the need for all to share equally in the fruits of citizenship.
This exclusion can be but is not only related to income levels. Jordi Estivill, for example, has pointed out that not all excluded people are poor, and not all poor people are socially excluded . The latter group could include people in peasant societies, for example in mountain regions of Europe where people may be monetarily poor but nevertheless have access to rich social networks based on family and village life. Likewise, students and artists are frequently poor but not necessarily socially excluded – for them, poverty ‘goes with the territory’. Conversely, some elderly people are not poor but may due to isolation and perhaps disability suffer extreme social exclusion.
The use of the word exclusion to describe those people that are shut out of society dates back as early as to the mid 70s when René Lenoir wrote his book ‘Les Exclus’. Lenoir noted that even prosperous and expanding economies did not include physically or mentally disabled people. A comparison can be made to other groups such as the homeless that remain outside mainstream society and do not share in its prosperity. The concept of exclusion gained traction in the 1980s and became commonplace in European policy discussions in the 1990s.
The advantage of the concept of social exclusion as compared to poverty is that it enables the multifaceted nature of the condition to be explored. Thus policy makers now refer to economic, social, cultural, financial, political, service and digital exclusions, to name a few. Needless to say, there is likely to be a high level of correlation with poverty in all of these subsets.
Social exclusion is frequently geographically concentrated. A whole series of processes in social housing allocation policies and private housing markets serve to segregate not only rich and poor, but also black and white. The extremes of this can be found in the US model of ‘gated communities’, which are the high-end equivalent to the ghettoes for ethnic minority and low-income groups first studied by Richard Morrill in Chicago in the 1960s . Gated communities are the way that the rich escape the consequences of living in an unequal society. In Europe it is common to find large-scale housing projects in inner cities and in isolated suburbs (or ‘banlieues’) that not only concentrate the poor but also contain high proportions of specific groups of the excluded such as people with long-term mental illness, and people with various forms of substance dependency (drug addicts, alcoholics etc.). Ethnic minorities are frequently concentrated in particular parts of cities – often these overlap with poor areas.
The wider use and understanding of social exclusion that developed in Europe during the 1990s coincided with increasing budgetary pressures on welfare state systems, the growth of mass unemployment, and higher levels than ever before of migration both from within the European Union and elsewhere by refugees from war-torn parts of former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on. Even countries such as Sweden that had developed highly sophisticated welfare state systems and the lowest levels of inequality in the world were faced with more diverse communities and new problems of integration and inclusion.
As policies against exclusion became more sophisticated the focus moved from looking at the ‘problem’ of the excluded to looking at the ‘solutions’, and thence to the ideal and problems in the practicability of ‘inclusion’.
The European Commission’s Social Policy Agenda (2000-2005) sets as one of its objectives: To prevent and eradicate poverty and exclusion and promote the integration and participation of all into economic and social life . This objective is reiterated in the Commission’s most recent social programme with, however, a change of wording: the recent objective stresses the more positive concept of inclusion as a policy approach, and it goes on to define ‘social inclusion’ as people’s capability to participate fully in both economic and social life.
Similarly, The European Commission’s Joint Inclusion Report (2004) had inclusion’ in the title indicating a more positive approach in contrast to the original title of the National Action Plans, which were ‘against poverty and social exclusion’.
This evolution is described in more detail in the Mainstreaming Social Inclusion report: Better Policies, better outcomes from which much of this material was obtained.
Target Groups For many years policy makers have recognized that particular groups are prone to poverty and social exclusion. Joseph Rowntree, a British social reformer writing in 1899 identified low wages, unemployment and old age as principle causes of poverty
The recommendation of the Joint Report on Social Inclusion was that the National Action Plans should focus on six priorities:
o Employment: Promoting investment in and tailoring of active labour market measures to meet the needs of those who have the greatest difficulties in accessing employment (unemployed, those on benefit, others inactive in the labour market)
o Access to services: Increasing the access of the most vulnerable and those most at risk of social exclusion to decent housing, quality health and lifelong learning opportunities
Ensuring that social protection schemes are adequate and accessible for all and that they provide effective work incentives for those who can work;
o Education to work transition; implementing a concerted effort to prevent early school leaving and to promote smooth transition from school to work;
o Children: Developing a focus on eliminating social exclusion among children;
o Immigrants and ethnic minorities: Making a drive to reduce poverty and social exclusion of immigrants and ethnic minorities.
These six priorities have a strong emphasis a specific set of target groups: on children, young people, those most vulnerable, and on immigrants and ethnic minorities.
Further information on European policy relating to Social Inclusion can be found at EU Policy and Programmes
Conclusion Modern definitions of exclusion and inclusion stress its dynamic nature. People can move in and out of exclusion over time as their circumstances change. The emphasis in policy development is to encourage a more dynamic environment whereby instead of becoming stuck in exclusion people have access to ladders out of this condition. Up till now, most emphasis has been placed on employment as a route, followed by enterprise. Increasingly policy makers are understanding the wide range of factors that can act as barriers to inclusion, whether these are to do with benefits systems, educational attainment and skills, childcare, health and adaptations for people with different physical or learning abilities.
Successful integration of ethnic minorities is closely related to their levels of social exclusion, which are frequently higher than for the host community either because their qualifications are frequently not recognized, or they are trapped in low paid work, and also because discrimination can affect their access to employment, the housing market and public services.