The social exclusion unit
The problem of social exclusion is not a new phenomenon, in fact the term originated in France in the mid 1970’s where it was used to refer to people who slipped through the social insurance system. Thus as stated by Burchardt et al, (1999) ‘the socially excluded were those who were administratively excluded by the state’. These excluded people consisted of a wide variety of groups, such as the disabled, unemployed and the elderly. According to de Hann, 2003, social exclusion in France represented a failure of the state to maintain the social fabric of the country.
Blackmore, 2003, points out that later, the term social exclusion became popular throughout Europe and began to appear in many European Union (EU) documents on living standards. Within months of coming into power in 1997, New Labour launched the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) in order to analyse the key issues involved in social exclusion in Britain as outlined by Batty, 2002, and often focused on workless households. The SEU, 2001, define social exclusion as, “…
a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime, bad health and family breakdown. ” Some theorists, however, argued that social exclusion is simply a fashionable term for poverty or even a sub-section of the poor! (Blackmore, 2003). Whatever the viewpoint it has to be said that the Government has made an evident commitment to tackling this issue by investing in education and making it one of their key priorities.
They have recognised that the gap between rich and poor is growing and see education as the key, with a need to raise achievement for all. In the past education has been used as a mechanism since it can be used to address particular socio-economic issues because of its universal application. The aim is to empower the youngsters of today, teach them their responsilities, towards each other, the planet and themselves and give them a voice; for they are the future of our society.
This essay will consider and reflect upon the success of this aim and whether the highlighted excluded groups are supported effectively by external agencies, given the opportunity to have their voices heard and allowed to make positive contributions within society. The Governments main initiative has been to make schools more inclusive in order to narrow the gap between the rich and poor and reach a social cohesion. Inclusion has existed in the past, however politicians have begun to redefine it’s meaning as Social Inclusion.
Historically, according to Barnes 1991: Riddell and Banks, 2001, social science theories have identified education as a major site for the reproduction of social inequality. Many disability commentators, Swain et al, 2003: Oliver, 1990, to name a few have argued the exclusion of disabled students from mainstream programming and the under-representation of disabled students in higher education is a cause, not simply an effect, of disabled people’s social marginalisation.
The benefits of inclusion have been well demonstrated and the Government together with local education providers widely accept it as the way forward, declaring it the ‘keystone’ of its education policy. The 2001 Statutory Guidance on Inclusive Schooling from the Department for Education and Skills (DES), gave a strong message to local education authorities (LEAs), schools and other bodies that the development of inclusion in schools is one of the Government’s highest priorities.
Thus advocating the strong educational as well as social and moral importance of all children learning together in the mainstream setting. Education is widely perceived as playing a pivotal role in the prevention of social exclusion and this highlights the importance of removing barriers within the educational system to enable all students to accrue the basic core skills required to integrate and function equally within society.
To address the concerns of lack of skills in the youth at the time, the Government commissioned Lord Leitch, Chairman of the National Employment Panel to carry out an independent review of the skills pool in Britain in 2004 with an aim ‘to identify the UK’s optimal skills mix for 2020 to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice, set out the balance of responsibility for achieving that skills profile and consider the policy framework required to support it. ‘
(Lietch Review of Skills: Prosperity for all the global economy – world class skills- final report – December 2006) The Leitch Report emphasised the necessity of shared responsibility. It suggested that employers and educators, as well as the government, should increase their investment in training and education: that employers and individuals should contribute most to training which gives them ‘private’ benefits, while government investment should focus on promoting basic skills for everyone.
This review was a pre-requiste to the surge in provisions made available for the 14 -19 year old cohort in an attempt to raise attainment levels and engage youngsters in their education and development. The big question is however, is society actively listening to these excluded groups and providing the support, guidance and interaction they need or indeed want? Explanations for social exclusion come from many different perspectives and academic disciplines.
The work of the SEU has closely examined the causes of Britain’s high level of social exclusion and overall has concluded that they are economic and social changes and a weakness in Government policies, working methods and co-ordination. The economic changes that have driven social exclusion include a more open globaal economy which has meant there is more competition and a need for continuous updating of skills, as well as the decline in importance of traditional industries such as mining and forging.
These changes according to the SEU have left today’s work force living in an uncertain world and have put a high premium on aquiring skills and keeping them up to date (SEU 2001). This increases the risks of people becoming socially excluded as a result of unemployment or minium wages which affect people’s ability to maintain living standards that are considered acceptable (Blackmore, 2003). These economic changes combined with some of today’s social problems; divorce, dugs and divided communities, leave people with less support networks enabling them to deal with these issues, without intervention.
Historically Government policies and structures have not been effective in helping people adapt to economic and social change. The SEU has published a number of reports highlighting several key issues and criticising the way that central and local Government have failed to help deprived groups and areas. They indicated that there had been poor investment in measures to prevent social exclusion and little effort to reintergrate those who had become excluded through unemployment, homelessness, disability and many other reasons.