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Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom Essay Sample

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Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom Essay Sample

……..Social exclusion is a relatively new concept in the United Kingdom1. This is particularly so for academics studying in the area of social work and social policy analysis. Indeed, for some social scientists the emergence of the concept has been a challenge to ways of thinking about the analysis of society (Levitas 1996; Byrne 1997). Historically the United Kingdom has had a paradigm of social science that viewed social division with a distinctively different perspective from the current European usage of the concept of social exclusion. The nearest discourse to this in Anglo Saxon social science is the approach to the study of deprivation that focuses on poverty.

Booth and Rowntree in the later part of the nineteenth and in the early part of the twentieth century established this tradition (Fraser 1973). Their works established a particular orientation to viewing deprived people in society from the perspective of poverty. The most significant component of poverty as they understood it was the lack of personal financial resources. Historically there has been an association of poverty studies with the academic study of social policy in the United Kingdom.

In parallel the profession of social work has been informed by and is increasingly contributing to this analysis. In the last two decades of the twentieth century, however, alongside this analysis there has been a concern about stigmatisation and the problems of labelling people: there has been fierce debate in the UK about the use of terms such as ‘the poor’, ‘the underclass’, ‘the excluded’. These words have been used to blame individuals. This has caused a certain amount of concern about the usage of such terms (see Rodger 1992). Social workers have been at the front line of intervention with people thus labelled. To a marked extent they have had the opprobrium of this labelling reflected on their profession.

…….. In spite of opprobrium related to poverty in the United Kingdom, the growing usage of the concept of social exclusion within the European Union has (somewhat reluctantly) pushed both academics and policy formulators to undertake a shift in thinking. Almost all of the social policy initiatives of the Union in the 1990’s have included a dimension that is related to social exclusion and social integration. Debates regarding the nature and extent of poverty in the United Kingdom have now to acknowledge that the condition and process of social exclusion are a necessary part of the dialogue. The Labour Government elected in 1997 established a Social Exclusion Unit. In April 2000 this Unit published a Consultation Document on a National Strategy for neighbourhood Renewal which recognised that social exclusion had social and economic causes and that an integrated approach was required to combat these.

…….. The intention of this paper is to examine aspects of developments in the United Kingdom over the past decade or so with particular reference to the process of social exclusion and finally to consider the implications of this for social work. Initially however we intent to sketch the usage of the concept of social exclusion in the context of the European Union. In 1989, the then European Community had been involved in interventions in the social area for 15 years and had initiated two Poverty Programmes. Prior to the commencement of the Third Poverty Programme, which commenced in this year, the Council of the Community adopted a Charter (1989a) which eventually became the social policy annex to the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht.

The Charter’s concern was with people in employment and their rights. The discussion around the content of the Charter, however, went broader than work and employment included a concern about the properties of citizenship in the Community (Hantrais 1995). It moved the debate into the area of the rights of non-workers. High amongst those for whom the Community had an interest were those on the margins of society. Although there was not complete agreement about this, the interest became an issue for intervention at a European level. The issue involved both the shift in thinking from poverty to social exclusion but also the propriety of the then Community taking action above the level of Member States.

The validity of this action was based on the powers contained the social policy annex from which the United Kingdom had opted out. This annex was eventually was incorporated into the Basic Treaty of the European Union in Amsterdam in 1997 and became binding on all Member States. It reflects an impetus from some of these Member States for a clear move by the Union into the social as well as economic arena. A major feature of this impetus has been the growing importance of social exclusion in the analysis of social and economic problems facing the Union in the 1990’s.

…….. This shift in thinking from poverty to social exclusion was noted in a European Council Resolution on September 29th 1989 that emphasised social exclusion as:

not simply a matter of inadequate (resources), and that combating exclusion also involves access by individuals and families to decent living conditions by means of measures for social integration and integration into the labour market.

…….. The Community’s interest was not only with the process of exclusion but also with the process of integrating marginalised people into society and the Council accordingly requested the Member States:

to implement or promote measures to enable everyone to have access to: education, by acquiring proficiency in basis skills, training, employment, housing, community services and medical care. (Council of Ministers of the European Community 1989b)

…….. The Resolution of the Council introduced The Third Poverty Programme which had a duration to 1994. The change in thinking of the Council was reflected in the title of the Programme:

Community programme for the economic and social integration of the least privileged groups in society. (Council of the European Community 1989c).

…….. The Poverty 3 Programme aimed at developing a multi-dimensional approach to social exclusion and focused on projects which had social as well as economic integration as their objective. To augment this, the Programme sought to gain the partnership of public and private institutions and to promote the active involvement of the governments of the Member States involved (Commission of the European Communities 1995). The Poverty 3 Programme was a major component of the Social Action Programme of 1989 to 1994. This Social Action Programme also involved the establishment of a group of experts in each Member State to report on the policies undertaken to alleviate the condition of social exclusion. These experts formed the Observatories on Policies for Combating Social Exclusion. They commenced their Reports in the early 1990’s. The first Co-ordinator of the Observatories developed a definition to guide their work:

(Individuals) suffer social exclusion where they; a) they suffer generalised disadvantage in terms of education, training, employment, housing, financial resources, etc.: b) their chances of gaining access to the major social institutions which distribute these life chances are substantially less than those of the rest of the population; c) these persist over time (Room 1990)

…….. This definition of social exclusion draws on both the European intellectual influence and also from a variant of the United Kingdom perspective on people who are socially deprived. Peter Townsend has made a distinctive contribution to this aspect of the study of poverty. From the 1960’s onwards he developed a definition of poverty different from the official government definition. He moved away from an income resource base for the measurement of poverty to a conceptualisation that examined poverty in relative terms.

That is it related poverty to the resources that people possessed in relation to the expectation society had of ‘normal living’. This measured the experience of poverty not just in terms of income resource but of access to other resources in society such as health, education, housing and the environment. It established marginalisation as well as deprivation as major components of the study of poverty. In using this approach as a basis for research Townsend (1970) concluded that in 1968/1969 some 22.9 % of the population were in a condition of poverty as compared to 6.1% measured by the state supplementary benefit standard. Clearly establishing that poverty was more extensive than had been previously assumed

…….. Townsend and colleagues (1985) specifically using multiple deprivation have undertaken further work in this area as a key conceptual tool in the study of poverty. This further study conducted in London confirmed that the marginalisation and deprivation of people was well beyond the threshold of the state income support level.

…….. This analysis of the United Kingdom will take poverty as an important variable in the understanding of social exclusion. The details of poverty measurement are not within the scope of this paper (see Abrahamson and Hansen 1996; Room 1996). They are complex and varied but they are clearly pertinent for estimating the extent of the condition. It is here that much work still needs to be undertaken within Europe. However, irrespective of methodologies, one aspect of the analysis of poverty is clear. In the United Kingdom it has increased in the past 18 years.

Oppenheim and Harker for the Child Poverty Action Group (1996) using statistics from official government sources on Low Income Families and Households Below Average Income estimated that in 1992/1993 14.1 million people were living below 50% of the average income (after housing costs). That is 25% of the population. This compares with an estimate of 9% of the population at this level in 1979. In the 1990’s a number of surveys were undertaken in the United Kingdom through the sponsorship of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. These surveys demonstrate an emerging duality in the use of poverty and social exclusion as tools in the analysis of deprivation in this country. They also reveal that deprivation is a condition experienced by a substantial number of people and neighbourhoods and that the endeavours of social policy and social services were not adequate to deal with this.

Inequalities in the United Kingdom

…….. The 1980s saw dramatic changes in social policy in the UK. Government responsibility for the maintenance of full employment was jettisoned early by the first Thatcher government and was replaced as a policy goal by the reduction of inflation. As a result of both ideological and fiscal concerns a restructuring of the welfare state occurred. That restructuring involved in part the privatisation of parts of the welfare state and the wish to privatise more.

…….. An outcome of that Conservative social policy has been the wish and sometimes the deed of rejecting Beveridgian2 ideas about the welfare state and replacing them with a sort of welfare pluralism. The argument for welfare pluralism, put crudely was that services provided as a result of competition between the state, voluntary and private welfare agencies would be more efficient, effective and accountable. This represents the then Conservative view. It is clearly enshrined in contemporary legislation and the assumption must be that it will be more fully implemented.

…….. In health this will involve continued encouragement of the growth of private health schemes and private provision. It is also certain to encompass the wholesale transformation of National Health Service hospitals and some other National Health Service services into National Health Service trusts. Encouragement yes but not compulsion. Compulsion is unlikely to be necessary – the penalties of remaining outside Trust status should be sufficient to ensure that hospitals fall in line with government thinking. In education, government is similarly using the carrot and the stick to encourage the removal of large numbers of schools from LEA control over the next three or four years.

…….. The impact of this shift in social policy is not entirely clear. One reading of the situation would see the introduction and widespread adoption of the opting out as a campaign of attrition, the result of which would be the creation of privatised health and education systems. This interpretation of events is strongly denied by the present government. They claim that these innovations are part of a political process to bring the control of hospitals and schools closer to the consumer. Time will tell.

……..In personal social services, the notion of welfare pluralism is at the centre of the community care section of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. Local authority Social Services Departments remain responsible for ensuring services are provided to customers, provision of services is ensured by means of a mixed economy of welfare. Local authority departments have become the `strategic enablers’ and purchasers of services. This purchaser/provider split is replicated in the National Health Service3.

……..In this vision, a policy and service framework indebted to market theory replaces the monopoly of welfare services by welfare state agencies. Beveridge is replaced by what Harris (1990) calls `choice in welfare’.

…….. Beveridge must be turning in his grave. For him insurance against sickness, old age and unemployment was the keystone of Britain’s post-war welfare state. The great virtue of collective insurance was its universality. Beveridge envisaged that contributions paid by people in work would guarantee benefits for them when out of work. But today, only three in 10 unemployed people receive National Insurance unemployment benefit, while the majority has to claim means tested income support. In addition, fewer than three in 10 women over the age of 60 today qualify for a full retirement pension through their own contributions.

…….. Beveridge’s system was based on assumptions about economy and society that are no longer true. He believed Keynesian demand management would maintain full employment, while married women would maintain the nuclear family. Men would work for money, women for love. Today, new technologies and competition from the Pacific Rim mean that mass unemployment is our central economic and social problem. Changes in the organisation of work mean we all have to adapt to flexible and multi-skill working.

…….. Social change is no less dramatic. Beveridge did not anticipate the increase in female employment, never mind the rise in cohabitation, separation and divorce, or the consequential increase in lone parent families. Today, women are virtually half the British workforce: and half of them and a growing minority of men are employed in part-time, casual or short-term jobs. Combined with long term and youth unemployment, there are millions of people who do not satisfy the increasing strident contributions conditions for National Insurance benefits, and are left without protection. Two thirds of lone parents are dependent on means tested benefits.

…….. Inequality clearly grew in the 1980s4. In the latter part of the 1990s there is little reason to believe that the situation is improving. There has been a rise in the number of self-employed people in poverty, a rise in the number of economically inactive people in particular lone parents and long term sick. The increase in unemployment during the 1980’s created a situation where large numbers of people became dependent on state provided social protection or social assistance schemes. This situation was made worse for those people on state supplied income in that the nature of the state income maintenance system changed during this period.

The process of change involved a move from a welfare regime that was modern and state associated to one that was residual and was designed to have the state as the provider of last resort. One aspect of this process was the erosion of social benefits paid by the state. A component of this was the move to link benefit levels to prices rather than wages. A survey by Goodman and Webb (1994) shows the effect of this on benefits. Payments in 1979 at the then Supplementary Benefit level were never generous at 26% of full time male earnings for a married person. In 1993 this had reduced to 19%. Thus achieving the objective of making the prospect of being dependent on the State in the later part of twentieth century Britain a less desirable situation than previously.

……..Poverty and unemployment are still two key dimensions of social exclusion. There is growing evidence that both these processes are contributors to the inequality in United Kingdom society. The recession in the United Kingdom in the early 1980’s created a situation where large numbers of people became unemployed. In 1983 the number of people registered as unemployed had reached over 3 million. Although currently less than this the legacy of this process is still felt in the population. Many older people who were became in the 1980’s and 1990’s have now retired and receive pensions but experienced poverty and deprivation before taking these into retirement. The long-term unemployed numbered 1,106,00 people in 1994.

Some of these people have been unemployed from the 1980’s. Will Hutton (1996) offers a stark analysis of these findings. That of a growing trend to marginalise the unskilled labourer and household. The structural employment situation in the United Kingdom has moved to a position where full time occupation at median wages is reducing for male wage earners. Large numbers of people are faced with the problem of either having lost occupation and not being able to attain another or being school leavers being unable able to obtain a full time long term occupation. There is thus a situation where poor people in the United Kingdom are being marginalised and cannot by their own efforts move out of this. They are deprived of the resources to achieve a standard of living equal to the majority of people in society.

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