Over the last generation, this has become a more divided country. While most areas have benefited from rising living standards, the poorest neighbourhoods have tended to become more rundown, more prone to crime and more cut off from the labour market. The national picture conceals pockets of intense deprivation where the problems of unemployment and crime are acute and hopelessly tangled up with poor health, housing and education. They have become no-go areas for some and no-exit zones for others (Social Exclusion Unit 1998:9).
The growing polarization of incomes and wealth within Britain has been well documented. Research has also demonstrated how low income is associated with certain groups in the population, including social housing estates (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1995), producing a spiral of deprivation from which it is increasingly difficult to escape (Social Exclusion Unit 1998).
This phenomenon has become known as social exclusion. This is a concept which can be traced to mainland Europe (Room 1995). It contrasts with the concept of poverty that has dominated the UK social policy discourse until recent years, in that it draws attention to social, political and economic relationships rather than individual characteristics.
As a characteristic of individuals, poverty lent itself to blame and moral sanction, from the days of the Poor Law through to more recent debates about an 'underclass' (Murray 1984), morally divorced from the rest of society and responsible for its own predicament. It also lends itself to counting, measuring, classifying and processing. Social exclusion, on the other hand, is a relational concept, focusing not on the individual and their classification but on the relationship between individuals and the rest of society and the ways in which lack of income has acted as a barrier to participation in normal life. Insofar as it draws attention to the processes through which economic, political and social processes conspire to exclude whole groups in the population, the concept of social exclusion also draws attention to the positive social and political rights of citizenship.
'Want', along with idleness, disease and squalor, was one of the giants which the UK welfare state was supposed to conquer. But by the mid-1960s, its failure to achieve a significant redistribution of income was well established.