What is the difference between poverty and social exclusion? How can the concept of social exclusion be used as a tool for policy-making? This paper argues that social exclusion overlaps with poverty but goes beyond it by explicitly embracing the relational as well as the distributional aspects of poverty. The concept has universal validity although it has not gained much attention in developing countries. An analytical framework should establish the interrelationships between the social, economic and political dimensions of exclusion.
The concept of social exclusion is complex and multifaceted. It refers to individuals and societies and to disadvantage, alienation and lack of freedom. In poor societies, economic exclusion is at the heart of the problem of exclusion. Any claim in these societies to income has a greater relative weight than a claim to political and civil rights. In a properly functioning democratic system, citizens need to devote some time and energy to democratic practices. However, when a large part of the population is struggling for survival, the democratic system may be more apparent than real, since it is likely to be controlled by groups with vested interests. When people are excluded from the main sources of income, their first priority is survival and a basic livelihood.
Relations between the state and individuals are influenced by individuals’ economic strength. Economic resources enable access not only to economic goods and services but also to political goods like freedom and the ability to influence economic policies. The political dimensions of exclusion involve the notion that the state, which grants basic rights and civil liberties, is not a neutral agency but a vehicle of a society’s dominant classes.
The distributional and realtional aspects of social exclusion are relevant to industrialised and developing countries. Distributional equity may be particularly important for low-income countries with very unequal income distributions and inadequate social security systems. Further findings are that:
- Although social exclusion may be a worldwide phenomenon, its particular characteristics and underlying processes vary between industrialised and developing countries.
- The distributional and relational aspects of exclusion are interrelated, irrespective of a country’s stage of economic development.
- In industrialised countries the relational aspect of social exclusion is more important because people have a minimum survival income. Here, the quality of the relationship between the individual and society is at the heart of the phenomenon of social exclusion.
- In countries where a majority is excluded from adequate livelihoods, the distributional aspect becomes the most important.
The concept of exclusion has economic, social and political dimensions that are often not explicitly stated, particularly in the literature on poverty in developing countries. An analytical framework should establish interrelationships between these dimensions. Defining an operational framework involves:
- The identification of society-specific norms of integration in terms of, for example, political and civil rights, social recognition and access to a decent livelihood.
- The selection of meaningful indicators for specifying relations between the state and individuals as well as among individuals.
- The establishment of priorities for fighting different aspects of exclusion.
- Demonstrating that political freedom and civil rights and liberties can draw the best out of people and raise their productivity, thereby contributing to growth and overcoming economic exclusion.
See also: Bhalla A. and Lapeyre F., 2004, ‘Towards an Analytical and Operational Framework’, in Poverty and Exclusion in a Global World (2nd Ed), Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp 33-58.