Social Exclusion & Current policies/Initiatives to address the Issue This chapter discusses social exclusion and its growth in popularity with researchers and policy makers; it looks at policies employed to address the issue and impact of social exclusion within society, particularly social exclusion in Northern Ireland. This chapter also looks at the difficulty in defining the concept of social exclusion and the difficulty defining and identifying the concept and the indicators employed to measure it.
Social Exclusion, the Term and the Extent of the Problem
Social Exclusion covers a wide range of issues that are difficult to define. Existing definitions usually describe how and why it occurs as well as its implications. The term social exclusion became popular in the late 1980’s and was employed to describe the results of economic, industrial and social changes that were taking place in France and Europe. These included long-term or repeated unemployment, family instability, social isolation and the decline of neighbourhood and social networks (Silver, 1994). Social exclusion was seen to be the outcome of two strands, which was believed, could combine to reinforce each other: separation from employment and separation from social relations, particularly the family (Martin, 1996). The charity Crisis founded in 1967 in response to the plight of London’s homeless population, also found that family ‘meltdown’ has also been reported as being an important factor in homelessness; this will be discussed in detail later. The concept of Social exclusion, as mentioned, originated in France’s social policy to address those living on the margins of society, and particularly those without access to the system of social insurance (Room, 1995; Jordan, 1997; Burchardt, Le Grand and Piachaud, 1999).
Since then the term has been used in a wider European context in reference to the European Union (EU) objective of achieving social and economic cohesion (Percy-Smith, 2003). Social cohesion came to the fore with negotiations around the Maastricht Treaty (European Commission, 1997), when social exclusion was written into the Treaty and became an objective for the European structural funds (Room, 1995). Social exclusion has become a topical issue both politically and in social policy in the UK. The growth in the use of the term resulted from growing inequality in the 1980’s which increased concerns over the degree of inequality in society and exclusion from participation in employment, and lack of full access to services (Howarth, Kenway, Palmer and Street, 1998). When New Labour came into power in 1997 they launched the interdepartmental Social Exclusion Unit (SEU), this was an indication of how serious they were about addressing the problems of disadvantage within the UK. As a result of this came widespread adoption of the term social exclusion in the UK by political commentators and the media (Bowring, 2000). Since then the government have published annual reports on both poverty and social exclusion. However, the SEU only encompasses England as social exclusion and poverty are devolved responsibilities and Wales have ‘Building an Inclusive Wales’; Scotland have ‘Scottish Social Inclusion Strategy’; and in Northern Ireland we have ‘Targeting Social Need in Northern Ireland’ (Percy-Smith, 2003).
The overall impact on inequality from the Conservative government’s office from 1979 to 1997 was indicated in a report by the Department of Social security (1998), illustrating that since 1979 incomes in the top 10% of earners increased by 70%, average earnings increased by 44%, while incomes in the bottom 10% had fallen by 9%. This increased inequality was contributed to: growing gap between highest and lowest paid workers; increased unemployment levels; reduced value of benefits; increased single parent households; abolition of wages council that provided protection to low paid workers; and greater reliance on expenditure tax,...