Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Social Exclusion: Challenges for Research and Implications for Policy

Academic journal article The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR

Social Exclusion: Challenges for Research and Implications for Policy

Article excerpt

Introduction

Social exclusion has emerged as a major organising theme of social policy. It has influenced how issues are conceived, debated, researched and addressed, particularly in Europe. Its modern usage began in France in the 1970s to capture the idea that certain groups were marginalised and effectively excluded from the French social protection system (Lenoir 1974; Whiteford 2001). It was identified a decade ago as one of the thematic priorities of Britain's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC 1997) and since then has exerted a powerful influence on the formulation of British social policy under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The UK now releases three-year National Action Plans that identify indicators, report trends and compare the UK with other EU countries (Department for Work and Pensions 2006). Ireland has introduced a National Office for Social Inclusion that will monitor the progress of its anti-poverty strategy (Northern Ireland Assembly 2002). The importance of policies that promote social inclusion and social cohesion has also grown in the European Union (EU), where the development of indicators of exclusion has re-invigorated the social indicators movement (Atkinson, Cantillon, Marlier and Nolan 2002). Interest in the concept among European policy makers culminated in the 'Lisbon Agenda' agreed to by EU Heads of State in 2000, which places social exclusion at the centre of the European social policy agenda (Atkinson 2007; Gordon 2008).

However, divisions exist over the meaning of the term, its scope, how it can and should be measured and its implications for policy. Unlike poverty research, which has become obsessed with definitional and measurement issues within a narrow income framework, debates over social exclusion have opened up a broader perspective and been characterised by a degree of pragmatism and flexibility, all of which have been welcomed by policy makers (Bradshaw et al 2004). Issues of definition and measurement cannot, of themselves, identify the causes of social (or other) policy problems and are no substitute for actions that address those causes directly. However, the ways in which problems are perceived, debated and identified can help to highlight the underlying causes and thus have profound effects on what kinds of actions are deemed necessary. Measurement is thus the first step on the road to identifying causation. This paper illustrates these propositions by comparing the new social exclusion paradigm with a more traditional one based on poverty, defined as a lack of income relative to need.

The Howard Government banished the use of the 'p-word' and although it paid lip service to the concept of social exclusion, its actions were focused on the narrower idea of participation, particularly economic participation in the form of employment. There was no effective policy response to the McClure Report's stated goal, which was to reform the welfare system in order 'to minimise social and economic exclusion' (Reference Group on Welfare Reform 2000: 4). In contrast, the Rudd Government has placed inclusion at the centre of its social policy agenda and seems prepared to acknowledge that some Australians (e.g. single older people) may be living in poverty (even if the word itself remains unspoken). Addressing the ACOSS Congress in April 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that the new government would be developing 'a new framework for national policy based on the powerful idea of social inclusion' (Gillard 2008: 4). The government has established a Social Inclusion Unit and set up a Social Inclusion Board that will consult widely and provide advice on policies designed to tackle disadvantage and exclusion. Specific initiatives in areas such as homelessness, mental health and Indigenous health will also raise issues of exclusion and inclusion.

The fact that Australia currently lags far behind European thinking on the topic means that we have much to gain by studying their experience, and this needs to proceed at the level of both research and policy. …

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