The Australian Social Inclusion Board Five Years On…
11 June 2013 at 9:18 am
As the Australian Social Inclusion Board marks its fifth anniversary, it’s worth reflecting on the things that have been done and what we have yet to do to ensure all people living in Australia have a shot at a decent life.
Being involved and belonging are central to feeling and being included – being part of the community. Participation plays a role in insulating people from poverty, low income and income inequality, lack of access to the job market, poor education, poor health and wellbeing, lack of access to social supports and networks, exclusion from services, and discrimination.
These drivers can combine to deepen disadvantage, creating a cycle that undermines people’s resilience and reduces their ability to participate and belong.
It’s common sense and makes good economic sense to ensure, as far as possible, that everybody living in Australia has access to secure, meaningful work or is engaged in meaningful activity like learning, caring and volunteering.
This is not possible for every Australian, but what matters is that every person belongs and is valued.
Despite Australia having a strong economy, too many people are being left behind.
In recent times we have seen significant financial support for people who are actually able to manage their own circumstances, while some of the most vulnerable Australians have fallen into more entrenched disadvantage.
As a nation, we have done well to deliver a wide range of social and public policy reforms in the past five years.
Perhaps most significantly, DisabilityCare, the national disability insurance scheme will soon be a reality, promising a better life for nearly half a million Australians living with disability, and for their families and their carers.
Education and aged care reform are on the way to promising a brighter future for many.
We’ve seen reform that will, over time, help prevent the destructive impact of addiction to poker machine gambling.
But at the same time unemployed people struggle to survive.
The key drivers of poverty in Australia include inadequate income support; rising electricity bills; increasing housing costs, especially in the private rental market; and significant barriers to work including the cost of childcare, inflexible working arrangements, lack of access to transport; and appropriate housing close to suitable jobs.
In addition, gaps in social participation or wellbeing, such as the effects of personal experiences and background, or weak social, family and other support networks, limit people’s ability to maintain friends and family, to use local services, to participate in community activities, and to have a voice in the decisions that affect them.
Reflecting on the last five years, while success can be difficult to measure, I know through my work in the community sector and as Chair of the Social Inclusion Board, that things are changing.
A Social Inclusion approach provides a rationale and roadmap for developing and rolling out policies that have been shown to make a difference to people’s lives.
While governments have a role in supporting social and economic participation; for people to fully belong, the community as a whole must play a fundamental part. Social inclusion is about engaging the broader community – business, sporting clubs, neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals – in the development of an inclusive and just society, and communities where everybody can contribute and be valued.
The Australian Social Inclusion Board has played a part in better policy by building and encouraging strong relationships with experts on the ground in the community, in research, in business and in the Not for Profit sectors.
The Board has fostered an approach where health, education, employment, housing, family, youth and community sectors work together, with all levels of government, to ensure people receive the support they need.
The Board provides advice to Government on principles of social inclusion, policy design, building stronger communities and service delivery reform to improving financial capability for disadvantaged Australians, employment outcomes for disadvantaged jobseekers and reducing homelessness.
One of the Board’s key achievements has been to develop a robust evidence base on levels of social inclusion in Australia, setting a baseline to measure future progress. Published in 2012, How Australia is Faring is the second of the Board’s reports on the progress made on social inclusion indicators and allows the Board and policy makers to determine where they need to focus their advice to Government.
The research shows that around 5 per cent of working age Australians continue to experience multiple and entrenched disadvantage. They may be unemployed, have low levels of skills and education and a chronic illness or disability, issues which in combination, prevent some people from being part of the community in the way most of us take for granted.
And we’ve produced research that looks at policies that perpetuate disadvantage. Governance models for location-based approaches informed the Government’s place-based measures under the Better Futures, Local Solutions initiative which have been established in 10 Local Government Areas to help governments, councils, businesses and community organisations to work together and use their local knowledge to address local social exclusion challenges. A place-based approach to social inclusion recognises that different communities have different needs, strengths and resources, allowing customisation to best suit each community’s individual situation.
Investing in people so they have the resources, opportunities and capabilities to learn, work or engage in other ways is important for people and for our society and economy more broadly.
The issues that lead to social exclusion are complex and challenging. But if we tackle these issues, working across sectors and governments, we can look forward to an Australia where everyone can contribute, belong and be valued.
The establishment of the Australian Social Inclusion Board five years ago resulted from a Government that recognised the need to build a stronger, fairer nation. In the next five years, it is critical that we continue to build on what we have learned and that social inclusion principles are at the core of our public policies, legislation and other decisions that shape the Australian community.