Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Intensity and Persistence of Individuals' Social Exclusion in Australia

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Intensity and Persistence of Individuals' Social Exclusion in Australia

Article excerpt

Introduction

In recent years there has been heightened interest in empirical approaches based on broader concepts of disadvantage than narrow income-based measures. One of these approaches is the social exclusion approach adopted by the European Union, the UK government and, more recently, the Australian government. One of the key advantages of adopting such an approach is that it explicitly identifies disadvantage as multidimensional in nature.

In this article we investigate social exclusion in Australia, employing a multidimensional measure that recognises the potential for exclusion to differ across individuals in terms of both its intensity at a point in time and its persistence over time. Developed through consultations held in 2008 and 2009 with a wide range of social researchers, community groups and government agencies, the measure identifies seven dimensions or domains of exclusion: material resources; employment; education and skills; health and disability; social; community; and personal safety. We apply the measure to a nationally representative household panel survey--the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey--which provides data that are relatively rare internationally for being both longitudinal and rich in covariates. In particular, the richness of the data allows construction of several indicators of exclusion for each of the seven domains, while the panel structure facilitates analysis of the persistence of each indicator at the individual or household level.

Our approach is premised on the multidimensionality of social exclusion, but our purpose is to produce a single aggregate measure of the level of exclusion experienced by the individual. The rationale is that, while knowing the particular dimensions of exclusion experienced by an individual is critical to addressing that exclusion, it is also important to simply identify the most excluded members of the community. This is best achieved by some kind of aggregation of the dimensions of exclusion into a single index. The approach we take to estimate the extent or intensity of exclusion is a type of 'counting' or 'sum-of-scores' method, with the level of exclusion a function of (1) the number of domains in which exclusion is experienced, (2) the number of indicators of exclusion present within each domain, and (3) the length of time the indicators are present for the individual.

Our key contributions to the literature are fourfold. First, we are one of only a limited number of studies that estimate social exclusion using a multidimensional approach at the individual level, which allows us to examine the extent or intensity of social exclusion of individuals and to compare people who are socially excluded with those who are only measured as income poor. Second, the richness of the HILDA Survey data allows us to incorporate a wide range of economic, social and health related dimensions into our overall measure of exclusion. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the longitudinal structure of our data allows us to examine the persistence of social exclusion. Finally, our focus on the situation in Australia provides new information on trends and persistence in social exclusion in a developed country with a quite distinct institutional setting. In particular, Australia has a large-scale and well-targeted welfare system--benefits represent the primary income source for approximately one-quarter of all adults--but entitlement levels are low and are essentially flat-rate (Whiteford 2010). Examination of Australia can therefore provide insights into the implications for social exclusion of such a well-targeted, but low-level, social safety net. (1)

The plan of the paper is as follows. First we briefly summarise previous research on defining and measuring social exclusion. We then explain our approach to measuring social exclusion, which follows with a description of the HILDA Survey data we use and the individual indicators used to construct our measure. …

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