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Social Exclusion is a highly debated problem which if left unresolved can have detrimental affects on the individuals involved as well as society as a whole, through public spending and the competitiveness of the economy. These issues have led the government to make tackling social exclusion a priority. This essay will begin by discussing the possible meaning associated with the term social exclusion examining two opposing definitions, before moving on to explain the major factors which are contributing to its development concentrating on education and technology and how this can affect the life course before discussing why social exclusion is a matter for public concern and therefore needs to be addressed.
Historically, poverty was the most common term used when speaking of the most deprived groups in society, more recently however these deprived groups are seen as being socially excluded. It is very important to define Social exclusion in order to clearly understand the social problems that are incorporated within the term and furthermore, the possible ways to measure and therefore tackle the problems that the concept signifies. However social exclusion is a highly contested term used to cover a wide variety of aspects in people’s lives and therefore creating a simple definition to cover these seems to be difficult. Independent research carried out by Peace (1999) demonstrated that within the European unions policy documents, the term social exclusion is deployed in a perplexing variety of ways, within the policy documents searched there were a total of 51 ways which the policy stated as aspects which could allow someone to be eligible and therefore categorised as socially excluded. This research demonstrates that the term social exclusion is very ambiguous with a lack of concise agreed criteria this allows it to be used to cover a wide variety of aspects in social policy. This concept is one that needs to be defined in order to gather a clearer understanding of its true meaning.
One of the most used definitions of social exclusion is that of The Government’s Social Exclusion Unit who describe social exclusion as “a short hand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked (social) problems, such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown’ (SEU 1997).” This definition is beneficial as it does move away from a definition which focuses solely on poverty. Instead it presents the problem of social exclusion as multi faceted with various interlinked problems which all need to be addressed. However although it seems to be a broader definition to what has previously been used it is still criticised as being incomprehensive as it does not lead to a clear set of criteria which can be worked off.
The Social Exclusion Unit has been criticised publicly by Levitas (1999) for using an imprecise and narrow definition, which focuses on economic indicators such as high crime, unemployment and low incomes, to define social exclusion. Arguing that these indicators are very implicit and easily identifiable ways to measure, what is an extremely complex concept which involves various interlinked cause and effects. Burchardt, Le Grand and Piachaud (2002a) have argued that, policy makers concentrate on the most visible and extreme issues which are likely to capture the attention of the wider public such as street homelessness, high crime, drug bad health and polices to reduce anti-social behaviour.
The narrow approach that has been utilised in this definition causes various problems in identifying where the government will cut there boundaries as it leaves certain areas of exclusion such as that experienced by gypsies, travellers and asylum seeker at the confines of its definition questioning whether the government view these individuals as voluntary excluding themselves through there lifestyle choices and therefore making them unworthy of any interventions that the government plan to put into place to promote social inclusion. It is clear to see that this definition leaves many questions unanswered although it gives us a set of indicators which may be used to identify social exclusion it subsequently presents the problem of understanding which are viewed the most important aspects and problems which need to be worked on, in order to improve the current situation
One of the possible reasons for the high amount of ambiguity which surrounds the term social exclusion is the limited extent of which attempts have been made to operationalise the term in order to be able to test it empirically. An alternative broader approach, but with some key elements in common, is the working definition of
social exclusion provided by Burchadt (1999) offers a definition which introduces a more objective view of this concept he suggests that ”An individual is socially excluded if (a) he or she is geographically resident in a society but (b) for reasons beyond his or her control, he or she cannot participate in the normal activities of citizens in that society, and (c) he or she would like to so participate’ This is a much more precise explanation of the possible meaning behind the term social exclusion it clearly helps people to see and identify whether they are socially excluded making it a much more measurable and objective definition which solves many problems for identifying those individuals who are socially excluded. Although this definition inevitably presents problems especially around criteria (c) as it clearly abolishes voluntary exclusion as a matter which needs to be addressed or solved it is very useful when establishing whether an individual is socially excluded
It is clear to see that the notion of social exclusion has a subjective meaning for each individual or group concerned which leads to considerable vagueness in the concept of social exclusion which is reiterated in the SEUs pragmatic and flexible definition, as indicated most which leads to different interpretations and discourses connected with the issue. For this essay the main definition used to classify social exclusion will be that presented by Burchardt (1999) as it is very objective and clearly distinguishes its view of the criteria that can be used to define someone as socially excluded.
After investigating the variety of ways in which social exclusion is defined one of the most important factors is clearly distinguishing the areas which are contributing to the problem as these are the issues that need to be solved and tackled in order to prevent social exclusion penetrating further into society in the future.
As was mentioned previously, social exclusion is a very broad concept and as such also involves various contributors. However when investigating the possible contributing factors of social exclusion the government has tended to focus solely on adequate income and the labour market. Nevertheless various other contributors have been identified such as: poor mental and physical health, high risk of crime and high fear of crimeâ€š poor quality neighbourhoods, mobility and access to transport and education are to name but a few of the contributing and interlinking factors to social exclusion and in more recent times technology & ICT is now having an influential effect on segregating society. This essay will focus solely on two of the possible contributions towards social exclusion identifying the prominent issues which rise within education and technology and how these factors can interlink to affect the subsequent life course of individuals and in particular youngsters.
Education is increasingly becoming a key contributing factor to social exclusion it seems that individuals who have become socially excluded see there level of educational attainment as one of the problems that they are facing. Research by The UK’s social exclusion unit reports that young runaways, prisoners and young people in care are all likely to drop out of school early, have high levels or truancy and low levels of reading and writing skills
Research undertaken by The Prince’s Trust has identified that although many underprivileged or excluded young people do not understand how they can go about improving the skills they need to achieve their goals and ambitions in life, 41% of these children recognised that a lack of qualifications can prevent them from achieving their goals these children usually have clear beliefs as to the possible barriers that are holding them back . (Princes Trust) Test scores at school do seem to be the most successful predictor of many adult outcomes. This is drastically shown in evidence collected by OCED (1997) In the UK, which showed that the unemployment rate increases considerably depending on educational achievements with 13% of 25 to 64 year olds unemployed with primary and lower secondary education, 8.3% for those with upper secondary education and only 3.9% unemployed among those with non university tertiary and university level education education offers an important means of social mobility, particularly for the poor. . It is clear to see from this research alone that education for young adults is seen as an extremely important factor in influencing future pathways, decisions, and life courses.
It seems as though a major factor which affects the opportunities and level of attainment students can achieve in education is the socio-economic status within the young persons families. Low-skilled parents with either no work or relatively unstable work, who are low-skilled with poorly paid work seem to also have children with poorer levels of education. This has been illustrated clearly in Recent research by West et al suggests that those children who relied upon income support from local authorities was strongly correlated with subsequent education attainment. The research suggested that this indicator seemed to account for 66% of the variation in educational achievements between pupils. This figure seems to suggest a strong correlation between low income from parents and subsequent levels of educational attainment for there children however although from the figures this seems to be the case it is difficult to attribute the cause and effect of this evidence. Although these figures do seem to show clear differences depending on family background, previous educational achievements and future outcomes and therefore an individuals chances of becoming socially excluded. Education alone can not be accused as being the solitary cause or the sole solution to the ever present problem of social exclusion it is believed as suggested by Istance (1997) that education, training and learning cannot guarantee success within society; however this factor is increasingly necessary ingredient of such success.
In the modern world possible contributors to social exclusion are changing, technology is constantly changing, increasing and dramatically affecting peoples lives. In recent years the emergence of a digital divide, unequal access to both technology and information, has increased dramatically (Bangemann, 1994, Joint, 2003), and is now considered to be both an aspect of and a contributor to social exclusion (Hills et al., 2002). In the UK it is therefore seen as important to ensure that this gap does not widen further, as ICT becomes increasingly influential in relation to educational standards, economic competitiveness and citizenship. This gap is apparent, in the latest figures which show that although the majority of people in Britain now have full access to the internet, 10 million still remain offline. Of these 10 million, 4 million are among the most socially and economically vulnerable individuals. Further figures released by the office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2009, revealed that 30% of households in Britain still have no internet access. With increasing emphasis on digital technology in education and the work place and a growing recognition that in the modern world access to the internet plays an important role in helping children gain the essential skills for formal and informal education in order to acquire good jobs in the future. (DfEE 2000b). Social inclusion and developments in the ‘Information Age’ are mutually reinforcing, and it is vital for people especially those in low income neighbourhoods, to gain and exploit ICT skills in order to gain the opportunities required to participate fully in there society (PAT 15 2000).Subsequently this divide needs to prevent and control the interlinked factors that could escalate the problem of social exclusion further.
It is clear to see just from the two contributors identified above how much of a problem social exclusion is becoming and how mutually reinforcing factors can be in affecting an individuals future life courses from a very early age. The research suggests that improving educational attainment may reduce the transmission of social exclusion over the life course. However, it is clear that education is only part of the story, as childhood deprivation is associated with significant reductions in adult
earnings regardless of educational performance. It is clear that modern advances in digital technology must be observed closely to ensure that social exclusion does not continue to increase into the future.
Although there are numerous contributors to this issue of social exclusion it still does not explain why it needs to be a matter for public concern. This problem has been discussed by Barry who proposes two reasons why social exclusion should be an undesirable characteristic which should be a matter for public concern. Barry suggests one reason why this is an important issue is that it dilutes social solidarity. It is seen very much to be inherently valuable to feel included within the society to which you belong and therefore involuntary exclusion can cause various problems for the individual in the form of possible injustices and unequal opportunities for the individual in the forms of education and jobs etc
Another important issue to consider is the psychological aspects of exclusion. Social solidarity is also likely to include the absence of power, voice and independence, and vulnerability to exploitation and humiliation. This is likely to affect an individulas mental health as the feeling of not belonging can be very distressing for the individual involved and therefore detrimental to there well being. Although there may seem to be some capacity for agency that allows poor people to improve the quality of their relationships and to secure respect and dignity for themselves it is also very important that others are welcoming to the changes.
Another reason that this issue requires some public concern is that social exclusion can produce the conditions in which conflict can occur. This can range from domestic violence to terrorist activity as severely disadvantaged groups with shared characteristics (such as ethnicity or religion) may resort to violent conflict in order to claim their rights and voice there inequalities. When individuals or groups, and in particularly youngsters, feel excluded from important structures, and deprived of legitimate chances to express their grievances, violence can provide an opportunity for them to voice there opinions and to gain control over their own lives. This disregards social solidarity and causes many problems for government, police forces and the individuals involved. This is clearly an important problem and reason that social exclusion needs to be solved in order to prevent a divided and very dangerous Britain.
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