Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Social Inclusion Policy Agenda in Australia: A Case of Old Wine, New Bottles?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

The Social Inclusion Policy Agenda in Australia: A Case of Old Wine, New Bottles?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The term 'social inclusion' became a guiding concept for Australian social policy with the election of the Labor Government in Australia in 2007, which argued the need for a multi-dimensional approach to poverty and other forms of social disadvantage. Being 'included' was more specifically defined by the new government as being able to 'have the resources, opportunities and capabilities needed to learn, work, engage and have a voice' (ASIB 2010). This definition was based on advice from the Australian Social Inclusion Board, established soon after the election of the ALP Government. The definition draws on a human capital approach, which privileges an economic lens by equating participation in education and employment with the notion of being included in society. The language of social inclusion in official policy discourse was relatively short-lived in Australia, having been swept aside with the change in late 2013 to a federal Coalition Government, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. On the same day the new government was being sworn in, the Social Inclusion Unit and the Board were disbanded (Karvelas 2013). We agree with Peter Saunders (this volume) that the demise of the ALP Government has meant that social inclusion is no longer a guiding framework or policy priority at the political or departmental level. Our interest in this paper is in analysing the concept of social inclusion, particularly whether the approach taken by the ALP Government had the potential to deliver on the promise of a more inclusive society.

What we argue in the paper is that the ALP Government pursued a fairly narrow 'welfare to work' policy agenda under the social inclusion banner, an approach that offered an insufficient response to other factors that lead to social inequality and entrenched disadvantage, such as chronic health problems, incarceration, permanent disability, and discrimination. In this sense, the social inclusion framework represented a continuity with the existing institutional logic of the Australian welfare state (Bryson 1992; Jamrozik 2005), with its emphasis on paid work as the main engine of redistribution and principal marker of citizenship, despite the fact that the labour market in Australia is no longer able to offer the economic security that it was able to provide in the mid to late twentieth century (Howe 2012). Moreover, the anti-welfare populism and welfare paternalism that typically accompanies welfare-to-work policies in countries like Australia work against the principle of inclusion in a socio-cultural sense because they construct a separate and problematic 'other' that must be reformed, managed and disciplined (Hoggett et al. 2010). As such, the dynamics of the social exclusion discourse are always potentially perverse, in that the effect of the inclusion/exclusion binary is to exclude while simultaneously seeking to include (Scanlon & Adlam 2008). In the contemporary context, the social inclusion policy framework struggles to escape the broader social logic of a disciplinary state, exemplified by the convergence between the penal modality--security, surveillance, law and order, punishment--and a muted welfare modality, which is becoming more conditional, more risk conscious, and more focused on managing problem populations, rather than addressing social need (Garland 1999; Wacquant 2009; Standing 2011).

This conceptualisation of the 'socially excluded' as a threat to cultural norms and social inclusion as equated with market integration is dominant in countries that have a highly commodified welfare state. It is important to place the policy narrative of the Australian social inclusion agenda in an international context given the role that 'policy transfer' between countries plays in shaping national policy agendas. In this regard, Australia has been influenced by the UK experiment in using social inclusion to frame social policy interventions. UK social scientists have developed robust analyses of the social inclusion agenda. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.