Social exclusion has become a critical theme in social policy research, discourses, formulation and implementation. The concept has gained a significant role globally, specifically in Europe and Australia where various governments have adopted it in their social policy agendas.
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The paper highlights social exclusion and poverty in Australia and offers insights and challenges for the concept. It approaches the issue of social exclusion on the premise that measuring poverty is critical for understanding its causation and impacts on society. Therefore, policymakers can understand the kinds of initiatives required to address poverty and social exclusion.
The argument is based on critical theory and illustrations drawn from recent studies in Australia that depict that social exclusion is multifaceted but often interrelated with several other issues, such as equal opportunity, marginalisation, substance abuse and crime among others. In addition, there is a relationship between social exclusion and poverty.
Arthurson and Jacobs (2004) noted that the concept of social exclusion has brought about division with regard its meaning, problems associated with it and its applicability and implication for social policies, in particular within the Australian context.
Peace asserts that social exclusion is a ‘contested term’ (Peace 2001). Discourses over social exclusion go beyond narrow definitions and measurements. It focuses on broader perspectives of social issues with greater flexibility.
Arthurson and Jacobs (2003) have provided a simple definition of social exclusion as “an explanatory tool to understand and analyse the processes that cause poverty and inequality, compared to its use as a descriptive term to describe or label disadvantaged individuals or communities” (p. 5).
The topic, measuring poverty and social exclusion was chosen to broaden the understanding of poverty and elements of social exclusion. In addition, the paper shows that social exclusion has several indicators and has evolved within the social policy sphere and academic discourses in Australia.
A Sociological Standpoint or Perspective on Social Exclusion and Measuring Poverty
Critical theory has been adopted to provide perspective on social exclusion and measuring poverty in Australia. A critical theory focuses on social issues from a critical perspective with the aim of critiquing and transforming society as a whole.
Hence, it goes beyond providing a mere explanation alone to offer solutions. It aims to dig beneath the facade of social issues to reveal postulation that inhibits society from a full and true comprehension of social challenges such as poverty and exclusion (Johnson 1995). The Frankfurt School scholars developed the critical theory.
The theory will help in understanding social exclusion and poverty because of its two core concepts. First, critical theory shall strive to provide social exclusion and poverty within the context of the totality of the society, including relevant historical elements at various points in time.
Second, the theory will enhance comprehension of society by incorporating all elements from various disciplines to explain the concept of social exclusion and poverty.
In addition, the critical theory was also chosen because it would allow the paper to explore social exclusion and poverty in an exploratory, practical and normative ways simultaneously.
In other words, the paper will explore the problem with the social exclusion and poverty, show the major stakeholders to transform them and offer both clear strategies for criticism and alternative practical solutions to change social exclusion and poverty in Australia.
Measuring Poverty and Social Exclusion
According to Saunders (2003), one fundamental aspect of social exclusion is that it widens the normal framework that focuses on poverty as a deprivation of resources compared to needs. In this regard, social exclusion can be considered as a means of broadening other ways to understand the resource concept of income poverty, particularly deprived individuals in society.
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Therefore, it is imperative for social researchers to think beyond narrow definition of poverty and more strategically on how further studies on social exclusion and poverty could result into greater influences on policymakers and to ensure social inclusion.
In the recent past, the social exclusion debate has gained attention because of several high profile conflicts that have taken place due to measurements of statistical trends in poverty and other specific measurable indicators for the concept itself (Saunders 2003).
As a result, many researchers on poverty issues have not reached a consensus on the measurement of poverty and specific poverty data because the current data are viewed with suspicion among the public. In addition, policy elites, who have abandoned the use of the ‘p word’, have demonstrated elements of contempt towards poverty statistics and measurement of poverty (Saunders 2003).
The Howard Government abolished the use of the ‘p word’ to refer to poverty in Australia (Saunders 2008). The approach, however, was not well informed. Instead, it focused on a narrow idea of encouraging economic participation with a focus on encouraging employment. In addition, the government had failed to develop a concrete policy response to the McClure Report.
The report’s goal was to ensure reforms in the “welfare system to lessen social and economic exclusion” (Saunders 2008, p. 71). On the other hand, the subsequent government adopted the concept of social inclusion in its policy framework (Saunders 2008). In this regard, the government has recognised that some citizens are still living in poverty in Australia though the word itself had been banished or remained unspoken.
In the year 2008, the Australian government declared that it would develop a new framework to promote social inclusion. Consequently, it has created a Social Inclusion Unit to promote a wider consultation and develop social policies that would address issues of marginalisation and exclusion.
The major areas of focus have been “homelessness, mental health and Indigenous health, which have raised issues of exclusion and inclusion” (Saunders 2008, p. 73).
In Australia, the poor have not been associated with a specific homogenous social grouping. That is, there are many strata of the poor and one must comprehend that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon. Therefore, static descriptions of poverty may not give clear situations.
There are sections of the poor with varied cases and such a definition may obscure the primary aspects of poverty, specifically the progress of poverty on individuals, households and long-term outcomes.
Poverty is multifaceted, undergoes changes, and is not merely a lack of income. Social exclusion aims to address issues that poverty has failed to capture. It recognises that poverty is not a homogenous phenomenon characterised by a lack of income relative to individuals’ needs.
Dimensions of Social Exclusion
Several poverty researchers have focused on assessing the value of social exclusion. Consequently, many have argued that the relevance of social exclusion can be noted in its emphasis on the diverse dimensions of daily aspects of life characterised by inequalities (Arthurson & Jacobs 2004). Moreover, there is a need to identify the relationships between dimensions of social exclusion.
Some studies, for instance, have identified three dimensions of social exclusion as “economic, moral and political while others have noted political, economic and cultural elements” (Arthurson & Jacobs 2004, p. 25).
These are different realms or dimensions, which aim to address specific issues related to social integration and exclusion. As a result, concerns have focused on “access to social networks and supports, to enabling access to resources, democratic decision-making and common cultural practices” (Arthurson & Jacobs 2004, p. 26).
Based on this approach, a measure of social exclusion has been developed for several aspects of life. These include “material resources; employment; education and skills; health and disability; social connection; community and personal safety” (Scutella Wilkins & Horn 2009, p. 23).
One major challenge has been developing a measurement framework that accounts for all dimensions of social exclusion. Consequently, researchers have concluded that there is “no right or wrong elements of indicators to assess social exclusion, but it is vital for the measurement tools to cover two key realms of participation and resources (Horn n.d, p. 13).
Data used to populate indicators for measurement of poverty and social exclusion have also been a source of contention. In most cases, researchers focus on developing a single measure of social exclusion. However, they must comprehensively understand the depth and persistence of social exclusion among diverse populations, households and individuals for a given period (Horn n.d).
The most appropriate sources of data for developing a measure of social exclusion have been “longitudinal panel surveys conducted at regular intervals with the same sample of individuals” (Horn n.d, p. 13). As a result, researchers can be able to assess different dimensions of social exclusion such as persistence, prevalence and depth as experienced a specific population, household or populations.
Depth of social exclusion
Policymakers should know the number of Australians who experience social exclusion. In addition, there is a need to comprehend the depth of exclusion against measurements of poverty.
For instance, Horn (n.d) showed that in the year 2008, “one quarter of the population experienced some levels of exclusion, 5% of the population (more than one million people) experienced deep exclusion and less than 1% (nearly 200 000 Australians) experienced very deep exclusion” (p. 15).
According to Horn (n.d), the prevalence of social exclusion and the rate of income poverty in Australia have declined between the year 2001 (21.6%) and 2008 (20.7%).
Figure 1: Trends in social exclusion and income poverty in Australia, 2001- 2008
Social Exclusion Persistence
Social policymakers should understand whether social exclusion is a transitory or persistent phenomenon. In this regard, the government must consider its welfare policies in order to understand any obstacles that have restricted participation in social and economic activities.
In addition, they are critical for guiding spending priorities of welfare. Thus, social policymakers must specifically focus on the Social Exclusion Monitor in order to gain distinctive assessment of persistent nature of social exclusion in Australia.
At the same time, social researchers have noted significant “variations in the levels of social exclusion as demonstrated by different populations in society” (Horn n.d, p. 15). According to Hunter (2009), women faced higher chances of exclusion relative to their male counterparts. In addition, individuals aged 65 years and over experienced greater chances of exclusion compared to other age groups.
Abello et al. (2014) studied social exclusion among youth in Australia using several domains and indicators that were deemed necessary for the well-being of youth aged between 15 to 19 years. The constructed index showed that risks of social exclusion in youth differed on small area level, but it increased further away from cities.
Abello et al. (2014) concluded that nearly “half the young people living in remote and very remote areas fell in the most excluded quintile of Australian youth compared to 19 percent in the major cities while more than a quarter of youth within major cities were among the least disadvantaged segment” (p. 30).
However, when one considered the distribution of populations between “urban and major cities in Australia, then most of the youth in major cities were significantly excluded” (Abello et al. 2014, p. 30).
There are also certain predisposing factors such as diseases, particularly mental conditions, which lead to social exclusion in Australia and other countries. For instance, a study in Finland established that social support enhanced mental health in all research participants (VicHealth 2005).
Youth who reported a lack of social connectedness in various forms were two to three times more likely to suffer depressive symptoms relative to their counterparts with good social relationships (VicHealth 2005).
There were higher rates of social exclusion among “immigrants in Australia relative to native-born Australians” (Hunter 2009, p. 52). Moreover, immigrants from non-English speaking countries experienced significantly higher rates of social exclusion (Taylor 2004).
One must also recognise social exclusion in Indigenous population. This is a complex situation in Australia. Indigenous population experiences exclusion, levels of poverty and rates of poverty in diverse ways compared to other citizens (Hunter 2009, p. 52).
These differences have been attributed to cultural elements. Therefore, it is imperative for policymakers to recognise cultural issues in policy formulation. Social inclusion policies can only appeal to Indigenous populations if they account for cultural differences. Otherwise, such policies should not focus on assimilation of Indigenous groups.
For the case of Indigenous population, Australia has not been able to define a social inclusion framework that incorporates local decisions and aspects of cultural practices. It could be difficult for Australia to incorporate aspects of cultural elements into a national social inclusion policy when there are wide gaps in cultural practices between Indigenous people and other citizens.
As a result, there will be differences between social inclusion policies and social exclusion definition for Indigenous population. Notwithstanding these challenges, Australia must strive to develop social inclusion policy frameworks that aim to reconcile the observed disparities so that Indigenous population can be engaged and issues addressed in a more amicable manner (Hunter 2009).
The role of legislation in addressing social exclusion is equally important, but the European Union has recognised that laws alone are not adequate to ensure a society that truly provides equal opportunities to all and is completely free from discrimination (European Union 2010).
Therefore, it is imperative for policymakers to recognise the role of diverse indicators that measure poverty and social exclusion as a basis for exploring and understanding poverty and social exclusion in Australia.
The Australian government has adopted a framework that promotes economic involvement and resource availability to address exclusion. This framework, however, was based on inadequate data. Consequently, there is a need to gather the right data that account for several indicators.
In addition, social exclusion is not a static phenomenon. Hence, there is a need to rely on recent data to develop a multidimensional measure from one source that can account for all Australians.
However, policymakers must understand the rates, the levels and persistence of social exclusion across populations and families, as well as economic and social obstacles to participation (Horn n.d).
Policymakers must understand diversity in Australia. For instance, there is a need to account for youth, vulnerable groups, Indigenous population, the old, immigrants and other members of society. Integrated models could help to address these unique attributes. In addition, effective policy frameworks should address risk factors such as education, housing, family, justice and health among others.
The essay has explored social exclusion and poverty in Australia and offered insights and challenges for the concept of social inclusion. Social exclusion gained a wider recognition in social policy research, discourses, formulation and implementation of policy agendas. A critical theory was adopted to assess social issues from a critical perspective with the aim of critiquing and transforming society as a whole.
It showed that social exclusion is a widely contested term with no specific meaning, but has several indicators that denote disparities. Measuring poverty and social exclusion is a challenge in Australia because of data, available indicators and a lack of trust.
Nevertheless, social researchers have defined specific indicators to guide formulation of measurement tools. There is no right or wrong indicator, but researchers must focus on persistence, levels and depth of poverty and social exclusion across different groups in Australia. Policymakers must adopt a social exclusion framework that accounts for diversity in Australia.
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