2010 was the European Year against poverty and social exclusion.
As residents of the developed world we tend to think that social exclusion is an issue which concerns only the third world but, in fact, there are so many risk groups of people among us which are threatened by social exclusion that each of us should wonder whether we ourselves might be at risk of becoming outsiders in this modern consumer society.
But what exactly is social exclusion apart from poverty? In modern terms social exclusion is a process of long-term non participation in the economic, civic and social life of the community। In other words, it is deprivation of economic, social and spiritual privileges such as education, health, care, employment, life enjoyment and a sense of self-worth. It is actually the violation of human rights to equal treatment and physical and spiritual well-being. Therefore, social exclusion is a socially structured disadvantage which leads to further marginalization and disengagement and an increasing deficiency in social capital. Most importantly, social exclusion is an act of non -verbal bullying committed by the society.
Is it only the very poor who are at risk? Of course, not. Poverty is both a cause and an effect of social exclusion but there are so many more factors. These are individual characteristics, such as the colour, the race, the sex, the age, the religious and political beliefs, the appearance, the health, the abilities, the family background, the social class as well as one’s qualities and qualifications, i.e. one’s human capital. Interestingly, the personality is a crucial factor. People who are extremely shy, sensitive, nervous, defiant and oppositional, disinterested and detached are more at risk of becoming outsiders.
According to the literature, there are also many school factors that may lead to social exclusion. These are bullying, conflict with teachers, disengagement, alienation, peer pressure, academic pressure, heavy emphasis on hard skills (literacy, numeracy, scientific skills), drop out and truancy. Research has shown that truancy is a symptom of poor adjustability and a predictor of future unemployment, anti-social behavior, family breakdown, depression, low self-esteem as well as failure to set goals and pursue them.
Other factors that are associated with social exclusion are crucial events in a person’s life such as job loss, divorce, accident, death of important Others, disease, moving houses or homelessness. Residence is also very important; living in a care institute, a remote area with poor transport, health, education and sport facilities or living in a ghetto are serious factors contributing to social exclusion. Nutrition and housing are also very important as they seriously affect one’s physical and mental health. It has been established that rough sleepers are ten times more likely to fail at school and at work than people who have a permanent descent home.
Besides, there are also civic and social factors leading to social exclusion. These are the civic institutions, such as racial discrimination laws, education and employment policies. Among the social factors are the moral values of the community such as tolerance to difference and respect to others or consumer values as well as social pathologies such as racism and xenophobia.
When it comes to the consequences of social exclusion we may notice that there is a vicious circle connecting causes and effects. Poverty for instance is both a cause and an effect of social exclusion because marginalization leads to further poverty. Other consequences are unemployment which leads to inability to participate in the consumer society and a sense of worthlessness which in turn creates frustration, depression, suicidal and self-destructive behavior as well as criminal and anti-social behavior and drug or alcohol abuse. At a socvel, social exclusion leads to social conflict and civic war or civic death. Marginalisation has also been related to diminished brain functioning because of non-participation in the decision making processes of the community.
What is the solution? It is the opposite of exclusion, which is social inclusion or social integration. Education is one of the most crucial institutions for inclusion. Inclusive education is free for all and aims at reducing drop-out rates and truancy by encouraging participation and motivating all pupils, laying emphasis on soft skills such as interpersonal skills, communication, team spirit, critical thinking, creativity, relationship building, conflict resolution, integrity, responsibility, perseverance, positive attitude to work, optimism, empathy, assertiveness, decision making, problem solving, community commitment, goal orientation and active citizenship. Showing respect to each pupil, education ought to develop each pupil’s talents and care for their physical, social, mental as well as spiritual well-being in a spirit of freedom, equality, respect and peace.
Other institutions that are responsible for social inclusion are care institutes for orphans and abandoned children, institutes for the disabled, second chance schools as well as rehabilitation centres for former prisoners, alcoholics and drug addicts let alone the numerous non-governmental volunteer organisations. Most importantly, it is up to each one of us to realize that social exclusion concerns us all being a social disease we are all responsible to cure.