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Social Inclusion - Not a Concept to Drive Social Policy

24 November 2009 at 10:25 am
Staff Reporter
The Rudd Government's Social Inclusion plans scrutinized from within the Social Policy Unit

Staff Reporter | 24 November 2009 at 10:25 am


Social Inclusion - Not a Concept to Drive Social Policy
24 November 2009 at 10:25 am

 The paper called Social inclusion and social citizenship — towards a truly inclusive society is by Matthew Thomas and Luke Buckmaster from the Social Policy Section of the Federal Parliamentary Library.


The paper says the term social inclusion is conceptually problematic in that it limits its scope to threshold issues and presents those being included as passive objects of policy, rather than as active participants in society.


The authors say the concept of social inclusion is thus unlikely to provide a useful framework for driving social policy, without some modification or clarification.


They say that with its emphasis on participation, social inclusion bears some resemblance to the concept of social citizenship, though without the crucial focus on such participation as being a right—as is the case with citizenship


They says locating social inclusion within a revised and more contemporary citizenship framework would most likely strengthen it as a concept. It would do so by reframing the concept in terms of the various rights and duties necessary for full citizenship, and creating a more active and participatory approach to social arrangements than can currently be found in the concept of social inclusion.


The Rudd Labor Government began implementing a social inclusion agenda in 2007 that involved the establishment of structural arrangements similar to those introduced in South Australia—that is, a Social Inclusion Board and a Social Inclusion Unit in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—as well as a Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion. 


The Government also identified a number of early priorities for social inclusion in the areas of employment participation, mental health, homelessness, child poverty, support for local communities and overcoming Indigenous disadvantage.


More recently, the Government has released a compendium of social inclusion indicators that is designed to assist the Social Inclusion Board to develop measures of social inclusion, and to discuss social inclusion related issues. The Government has also indicated that, by the end of 2009, it will develop a national statement on social inclusion that will ‘chart a long-term strategy towards making Australia a stronger, fairer society.’


The authors say that if social inclusion is to serve a meaningful role as a policy framework, then it needs to have more substance; what is required is a strong version of the concept. 


One means of ‘beefing up’ social inclusion is the possibility of linking the concept to a rights agenda. One possible way of doing this is through the concept of social citizenship, based as it is on the concept of social rights and using social citizenship in combination with the concept of social inclusion, as a framework for social policy.  


The paper says the concept of social citizenship highlights the need to look beyond formal legal and political rights and obligations in order to gain a fuller appreciation of what is needed for participation in or membership of a community. Citizenship is also about non-political capacities which themselves are directly connected to access to social resources.


It says the concept of social inclusion has a number of definitional and conceptual problems that limit its capacity to serve as a framework for the development of social policy but this is not to say that the concept is without its merits, or that its deficiencies cannot be addressed. 


However, the paper argues that without further development and clarification, the concept’s potential for making serious and lasting inroads into social disadvantage and marginality is likely to go unrealised.


The paper can be downloaded at;


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