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Definitions of social exclusion

Definitions of "Social exclusion" in the New Labour years have involved a denial of structural inequalities'. Assess the validity of this judgement.

The explicit use of the term 'social exclusion' (SE) is relatively recent in origin in the UK. However it has been utilised in European social policy context for some time in particular through the 1990-94 EU anti-poverty programme focusing on the integration of the 'least privileged'.

New Labour has adopted the concept as a key policy priority, this is no accident and the term itself was not settled on until months into government. This thought out policy target was reinforced by the establishment of the 'Social Exclusion Unit' (SEU) in 1997. The SEU was set up by the Prime Minister to help improve Government action to reduce social exclusion by producing 'joined-up solutions to joined-up problems'. The SEU website provides the following definition of social exclusion:.

'...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 environments, bad health and family breakdown'

The above definition is only one in a myriad of explanations. The expression is so widely engaged in debates about social politics that accepting one definition would not provide the justice required nor the insight of its use and in turn its deployment in policies and hence initiatives.

The term social inclusion seeks to be a more comprehensive and holistic in addressing social disadvantage, it is multi dimensional and hence can be flexible. cal1966, please do not redistribute this project. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this project elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned.

Although flexibility can be advantageous, there are clearly opportunities for those who desire to manipulate to their own advantage. Hence the terms popularity across the political arena.

The concept has been increasingly used as an alternative expression of relative 'poverty' (Walker defines this as "lack of material resources, especially income, necessary to participate in British society" (1997:8)

However as Fairclough points out 'new Labour have replaced 'long standing Labour party objectives of greater equality' with 'the objective of greater social inclusion'. This move to an 'inclusive society' has been a move away from the previously dominant concept of 'poverty''. By doing this the wider issues associated with poverty, inequality and distribution of wealth are side lined. cal1966, please do not redistribute this coursework. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this coursework elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned.

This enables social exclusion to be embedded in a variety of discourses which are used or 'slipped' into and out of in accordance to political constituencies and methods to gain their support.

Ruth Levitas identifies three types of discourse, a redistributionist discourse (RED) which is mainly concerned with poverty, inequalities and redistribution of wealth; a moral underclass discourse (MUD) which looks at moral and behavioural delinquency of the excluded which are largely defined in young unemployable men, those with criminal inclinations and single mothers; and a social integrationist discourse (SID) which focuses on paid work as part of a means to socially integrate those that are unemployed or economically inactive.

New Labour uses the flexibility of the term social exclusion to deploy a inconsistent mix of SID and MUD. This has seen a marked move away from RED

However Murray provides us with an alternative definition of underclass via its association with 'a type of poverty' as opposed 'to a degree of poverty' (1990:1.1)

The purpose of this essay is to show that in my opinion New Labour has used the flexibility of social exclusion to move our attention away from wider problem of structural inequalities. This essay from

My perception of 'structural inequality' equates to an association with an existing class stratification that is still prevalent in society today but disguised or diverted from via the creation of a class 'outside of current structures referred to as the 'underclass'.

The concept of underclass is initially derived from an American model mainly associated with a 'black underclass'. However as Murray himself points out transferring the model to Britain is not so straight forward due to the differences in statistics and methods which are associated with levels of legitimacy. He attributes a key set of characteristics to the underclass: dd.

"The key to underclass is not the individual instance but a situation in which a very large proportion of an entire community lacks fathers, and this is far more common in poor communities than in rich ones". (1990:13)

Such a grouping together of communities and none recognition of individual circumstances is prevalent in policies executed by New Labour.

Frank Field uses Murray theory on the underclass as the backbone to New Labour policy on addressing social exclusion. He acknowledges that there are differences in Murray underclass. He identifies the underclass as being composed of the very frail, elderly pensioners, the single parents... and the long term unemployed. These groups are the 'target' group for New Labour.

However the problem is that the inequalities between groups in society ranging from what can be deemed as the working class, middle class and the rich are not addressed. Hence the discourse of RED is 'excluded from Labour policy.

The creation of an 'underclass' has served to detract attention form the differences in current structures in society (as argued by Ron Griffith and R Levitas). By creating an underclass out attention is moved away from 'class' problems and in turn inequality.

"...Widespread rejection of the 'underclass' thesis...little evidence of a semi permanent class in society which has chosen to disengage itself and not partake in 'mainstreams'. If anything the creation of an underclass diverts our attention form problems with 'inequality' that have been present in society for decades". (Griffith R & Stewart M in Griffith R 1998)

In 'Against work: a utopian incursion into social policy Levitas argues that policy reflects this denial, she argues that 'a policy focus on specific excluded groups defined as those without the skills for, or access to, work diverts attention from the fact that there are many in work who by virtue of low pay or poor working conditions are in many respects outside the mainstream.

This can be viewed in the SEU, which is concerned with social and moral order. Its targeting of smaller groups whose behaviour 'is deemed to diverge from prescribed norms' moves us away from the larger problems associated with inequality and redistribution of wealth.

New Labour has worked hard to "...eradicate the image of the Labour party of the organised working class, by rejecting a class analysis of society altogether in favour of a pluralist model". (Levitas R) But do the underclass exist?

Research carried around relationships to employment status and an 'underclass' seem to be more persuasive of a lack of such a relationship. For example,

Gallie 1994 found evidence that the unemployed and long term unemployed experienced high levels of material deprivation. However found no support either for conservative view of the unemployed and underclass as becoming unemployable as their values adjust to the lack of work, or the 'radical' view of the unemployed underclass as having political and cultural values distinct from those of the working class.

By placing groups of outside of the social structure out attention is moved away from class and in turn inequalities. This is reflected in the National strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (1998) and geographically via areas, which are deemed as deprived. This mix of social and geographical segregation creates a group, which is set outside of the rest of society. In addition this generalisation makes us overlook some key specific differences such as class, gender, race etc.

By taking on a 'people' centred approach New Labour have moved the focus of addressing 'exclusion' to the 'people' who are given a set of moral attitudes and values that require addressing (MUD). The SEU provides us with a set of characteristics attributed to these 'groups'.

In summation they are; unemployed, lone parents, on income support & have low levels of qualifications. In addition they reside in areas that are highly populated with ethnic minorities and housing (or vacant housing) and have schools that are on special measures.

By associating a set of people with the above characteristic a stigma is attached. But these characteristics serve to move attention away from the processes that are also a contributory to the situation these people are in. A key element of social exclusion is the idea that there are processes and dynamics within society and its institutions, which generate relative poverty (Lee and Murie, 1997).

The issues associated with moral and social order and further reinforced via the dominant role of employment in Labour policies. Social exclusion is principally construed as 'non participation in the Labour market' which marks a significant shift from the1980's 'inability to participate' view (Townsend 1979).

As Levitas points out "...the very purpose of exclusion/ inclusion discourse is that it focuses attention on minimum threshold from which 'outsiders' must be helped, induced or forced into mainstream, but systematically ignores inequalities within that mainstream".

The overall thrust of policy and rhetoric has been to decrease poverty and exclusion without tackling overall inequalities in income and wealth and without increasing income tax or corporation tax.

Blair has continually 'shyed' away from increasing spend on public services, as this would necessitate an increase in income tax. Hence the possibility of having to make those with wealth 'pay', as that's where the real revenue to pay for improved public services would be sought.

Blair uses the idea of a meritocracy to justify not 'penalising' the 'rich' and to provide an alternative through 'winners' in an unequal society. He uses the idea of social mobility as a mechanism for income distribution to allow rewards to the rich and remove the link to a negative image. We now live in a society, which on the surface accepts big rewards, such as executive salaries and bonuses as part of the system. This is significant in keeping all constituents content and willing to provide votes.

Where attempts are made to redistribute wealth they are only interim and in the long term are not enough to move to any real change in income distribution. For example the use if child benefits and working families tax credit as a way of balancing income levels are reduced by the fact that the cost of higher education is increasing and the responsibility of the parent/child rather than the state.

Such benefits can also be regarded as a means to keep the middle class content where as the affluent/rich are shielded from the public's attention. However such benefits which are 'add ons' for the middle and rich are crucial for basic survival for the working/ underclass.

By cleverly manipulating the language they sue NL have managed to detract from a range of issues around redistribution of wealth.

Programmes such as New Deal for Communities have the job of making 'bending' or re-shaping' mainstream the problem is that they are run by people who are not close enough to the target population and those that are most endanger of being excluded. In fact those that do benefit are in most cases middle class and with the emphasis still targeted on outputs delivery and not enough on engaging with the most excluded likely impact is questionable.

The trade off between basic income and minimum income as identified by Gorz is important in this instance. New Labour proved a minimum income. However poverty indicators unequivocally show that the situation is worsening:

"The number of people living in poverty in Britain has grown from 5 million in 1979 to just under 14 million in 1993/4 according to the Governments definition of low income" (Walker 1997a)

I accept that there are a growing number of groups and people within 'poorer/working class' society that do face more poverty and deprivation than the wider group. However the current policies in place deal with specific groups but fail to address inequalities that have been prevalent for a long time and are growing.

New Labour have concentrated their efforts around the moral and employment related issues but have failed (in my opinion) to deal with institutional inequalities that are significant contributors to social exclusion. Much of this, again in my opinion has been carried out to keep the voters across the social strata in favour.

The situation we are faced with is a society in which the rich get richer and the poor and further excluded from mainstream engagement.


Buck N (1996) Social and economic change in contemporary Britain: the emergence of an urban 'underclass'? in E Mingione(Ed), Oxford, Blackwell

Byrne D (1999) Social Exclusion, Open University Press, Buckingham

Fairclough N (2000) New Labour, New Language? Routledge, London

Furbey R (2003) The Rise of 'Social Exclusion' Sheffield Hallam University, Lecture Notes

Griffith R (1998) Social Exclusion in Cities: the Urban Policy Challenge, University of West England, Bristol

Levitas R (1998) The Inclusive Society? Social Exclusion and New Labour, Macmillan, Basingstoke

Levitas R (2001) Against work: a utopian incursion into social policy, Critical Social Policy Vol. 21(4) p449-465

Murray C (1990) The Emerging British Underclass, Institute of Economic Affairs Health and Welfare unit

Pawson P & Kintrea K (2002) 'Part of the problem of part of the solution? Social housing allocation policies and social exclusion in Britain, Journal of Social Policy, Vol. 31 (4), p643-67

Townsend P (1984) Why are there so many poor? Fabian Society, No.500

Wedderburn D (1974) Poverty, inequality and class structure, Cambridge University Press, London

Social Exclusion Unit - last accessed 28/05/03 at URL

cal1966. Thus, we can say that whilst this represents a progression, in the end we have come no closer to any "real" knowledge.

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