Understanding Social Exclusion, by John Hills, Julian Le Grand and David Piachaud (eds.)

(Oxford University Press, 2002), £50, hb, 274+xiv pp. Paperback £21.99 Order this book

The replacement of ‘poverty’ with ‘social exclusion’ in political debate is not merely a change of terminology designed to include in the debate those who think that there is no such thing as poverty (though it is that), for ‘social exclusion’ encompasses a field of interest broader than that encompassed by ‘poverty’. For one thing, the new terminology draws attention to someone’s exclusion from active participation on family, community, national, and global levels, and it invites a dynamic analysis rather than snapshots of people’s resources at a particular time.

The first and second chapters explore the meaning of ‘social exclusion’ by relating social inclusion to social justice and social solidarity in such a way as to suggest that an increase in inequality translates into an increase in social exclusion. Chapter 3 seeks measurable definitions of participation in order to measure social exclusion (though because consumption, production, political engagement and social interaction relate to outcomes rather than restraints, measurable definitions of disincentives to participation are not sought – and surely disincentives to participation are an important part of the definition of social exclusion). Chapter 4 studies poverty dynamics, i.e. the ways in which people move in and out of poverty, and concludes that there is a group of people who experience poverty more often than most. Chapter 5 is on social exclusion across the generations; chapter 6 shows how family resources affect people’s experience of social exclusion; and chapter 7 shows how Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit and the Working Families Tax Credit reduce incentives to employment and thus increase social exclusion. (This is particularly important because poverty in low-wage families affects children and increases the likelihood of their social exclusion). Chapter 8 is on the effect of concentrations of disadvantaged people in particular neighbourhoods; chapter 9, on child poverty, suggests that an adequate minimum income is necessary for those out of work to prevent their children from experiencing poverty; and chapter 10 shows that some social policies aimed at preventing social exclusion can simply move the problem elsewhere (for instance, policy aimed at keeping the unemployment count low can increase the number of people claiming sickness benefit) and that policies which respond to existing social exclusion are needed to prevent existing social exclusion from causing more social exclusion in the future. Chapter 11 is on education’s role in preventing social exclusion; chapter 12 is on the relationships between social infrastructure, community participation and social inclusion; and in chapter 13 John Hills asks whether a focus on social exclusion changes the policy response and concludes that a dynamic analysis is needed: for instance, it is important to help families to reduce from two earners to one earner rather than from two earners to no earners so that it can then more easily return to being a two-earner family. In this connection universal benefits are recommended, not because they redistribute income differently at a particular time (which they don’t necessarily) but because they contribute to social solidarity and thus decrease social exclusion.

This book is a fund of useful research data and results, and the concluding sections of each chapter provide important indications as to where social policy should be going if we want to reduce social exclusion in our society. Thoroughly recommended.