Social exclusion occurs where individuals become excluded from mainstream society, thus placing them at a disadvantage in terms of life chances.
Contrary to the common view that social exclusion is confined only to council estates, individuals from teenage mothers to older adults of various socio-economic levels and family types can easily become excluded from society.
This essay shall explain the common occurrences of social exclusion within council estates and their causes. I shall then proceed to discuss the strategies used by various housing organisations to combat the problem.
According to the government – the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, ‘Social exclusion is 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’1.
To be excluded from society is not a situation exclusive to residents of council estates suffering from disrepair; individuals become excluded from society when various factors2 prevent or limit their ability and opportunity to participate in the mainstream of society. The following are commonly reported examples of social exclusion.
One of the most common examples of social exclusion occurs in council estates, where the residents are generally not content with their living conditions but feel it is the best they can gain.
They typically spend most of their time in the home or around the estate, rarely venturing out of the surrounding area. The majority of their life surrounds socialising with family and friends. This ‘estate life’ is therefore important to them because it occupies such a large part of their lives and provides the large majority of their social contacts.
Such a resident will have relatively low levels of aspiration and motivation, which is commonly the result of feeling stuck in ‘low-level’ employment3 or having to rely on social security and other benefits for a relatively long duration. This is known as the ‘benefits trap’. They are also poorly qualified4 and skilled, sometimes with low levels of literacy.
The type of people who live in this situation do not perceive the high rates of joblessness or increasing disrepair on their estate as significant problems and take it all ‘in their stride’. As a result, they accept:
o The level of crime, caused mainly by drugs misuse and the anti-social behaviour of other residents.
o Their actual and expected levels of relatively low personal achievement and educational attainment.
o Qualities in their environment that wouldn’t normally be accepted within mainstream society, such as prolonged disrepair and noise pollution for instance.
o High levels of pressure from peers to conform to their activities and standards.
The main cause of this common example of social exclusion was the major shift from the manufacturing industries to service industries, mainly over the last two decades.
This shift was propelled mainly by the fall of the Keynesian economics and the rise in free market economics. The Thatcherism approach adopted by the conservative government of that time also increased the competitiveness of the services sector, thus improving the sector for the public and making the sector more efficient and profitable.
This made many redundant from society as a large proportion of people that were skilled in the manufacturing sector made unemployed and left in a generally unsuccessful search for employment. This is because they are not skilled or experienced in the service industry.
This was further worsened by the use of ineffective5 and inflexible housing policies; the under funding of public services, which in turn led to the deterioration and withdrawal of public services from housing estates.
As a direct result, those that could move out of the area6, did move out of the area, resulting in the residualisation of the social renting sector as ‘council housing becomes a service for those who can not afford to buy’ (Forrest and Murie, 1990)7. The housing estates have become poorer places with more unemployed residents, less adequate services and a poorer physical and social environment.
When those with the opportunity leave the area, it becomes much more difficult to reverse the process of residualisation through renewal and regeneration of the estate.
On the other hand, various factors such as inertia, the feeling of little worth and not being able to aspire to achieve more, lack of security, poor educational facilities for children, poor job prospects and a worsening environment, are all valid reasons to move away. Having grown up in the area, however, many feel tied and are reluctant to leave, despite the fact that the quality of the area has deteriorated.
It is easy for single parent families to become excluded from society, when there is little or no support available within reach. This is another common example of social exclusion.
Most of the young people in such a situation who had been jobless since leaving school had also experienced a troubled upbringing and an unstable family background; many came from broken homes and had been brought up by various different adults, the partners of one of the birth parents, for example. This causes disruption in the child’s life on various levels including education.
Many studies into this area display a relationship between poor childhoods leading into a poor adulthood, causing repeating generational life cycles. This leads onto the next common example of social exclusion
There has been an increasing governmental interest of the government in the anti-social behaviour of teenagers growing into anti-social young adults.
More positive attitudes to work and life can be found amongst young people whose parents were working or had worked for most of their lives but on a low wage.
There is increasing awareness of the social exclusion of pensioners, especially those found on council estates. They are scared to leave their home, and so choose not to unless absolutely necessary. There is no adequate support for them and there are recently reported high levels of poverty8 amongst pensioners, as those with supplementary incomes rely solely on governmental assistance.
‘About one million pensioners have no income other than the state retirement pension and benefits. Their vulnerability is underlined by figures showing that they spend about half as much on food as those with private incomes’.
Those with supportive children rely on them to perform basic task such as essential shopping and they are usually the main source of their social contact. Without this, they become prisoners in their own home, paranoid and reclusive, increasing their risk of mental and physical health problems.
Other types of individuals that can become excluded from society are ethnic minorities – being both a minority in the country neighbourhood, ex-offenders and the homeless and their difficulties with rehabilitation, people with language difficulties, medical problems, and mental health.
Due to their heavy dependence on their local area, local facilities of all types are needed. ‘The stigma and reputation of areas further affects residents in seeking jobs and in a variety of other contexts’ (Lee, 1998)9.
Typical qualities as described by Professor Paul Spicker of ‘poor estates’ are10:
o Vandalism – As a result of the inadequate space for children and teenagers to play, both in or out of their home.
o Rubbish – It may cost money that the local authority does not have to pay for the removal of large items of rubbish (such as old furniture).
o Home maintenance – The maintenance of homes and gardens costs money for equipment, which many poor people do not have.
o Lack of community facilities – Shops and facilities are not economically viable and so are not invested in.
o Empty housing – Housing is left empty because the area is unattractive. In comparison, a bad house in a good area would still be taken.
o Design – There is a clear connection between bad design and problems such as vandalism, rubbish and graffiti. The problems with high-rise blocks have been lack of play space, isolation, disposal of rubbish; noise insulation, reliance on lifts which are often dirty, vandalised or broken; inadequate water pressure, and insecurity because of fears of fire, building movement or crime.
Housing organisations are in place to aid the implementation of the housing policies and legislation of the government.
In further detail, housing organisations are in place to improve housing services and facilities, making them more effective; improving educational and employment opportunities, which invests in the future generation in the area; to manage funding and to improve the level of tenant involvement through participation and consultation. This helps to determine the needs of the community and its area, giving their strategies the increased likelihood of being effective in the particular area. This also enables the decision makers to prioritise more effectively and makes the tenants feel more involved, as they are aware of the activities within their own area.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation11 is one of the most prominent charities in the UK in this sector. It aims to contribute towards policy making and the development and implementation of current policies through their extensive research in the areas of housing, social care and social policy.
Another housing organisation contributing towards the improvement of the social housing sector is the Housing Corporation12 who provides funding using public money for housing associations to provide sufficient homes and services for its residents.
Through regulation, the Housing Corporation ensures that these homes and supporting services remain sufficient to the needs of their residents for the foreseeable future.
Such social housing organisations are taking on a much larger and influential role in the governmental drive for economic regeneration through social regeneration. This means that through past experience of failed and poorly designed strategies, the government now acknowledges that they must improve the public that they serve and their quality of life for the economy to improve.
The following is a summary of a ‘good practice’ case study carried out by the Housing Corporation on the East Thames Housing Group:
o The East Thames Housing Group13 is based in Stratford, East London and currently possesses eight thousand units.
o They are involved in the Single Regeneration Budget14 and the City Challenge15 and are said to have good links with local authorities.
o With the help of funding from the European Union, the ETHG ran two series of a project entitled ‘Youthstart16’ throughout the years of 1995 to 1999. ‘Youthstart’ was aimed at young people – who are viewed by the government as being the most vulnerable to social exclusion.
o Through ‘Youthstart’, the young people who took part in the project were provided with accommodation, training and further enhancement of their employment opportunities.
According to a new study by David Page, the government’s war against social exclusion and anti-social behaviour ‘is a race against time to prevent already troubled social housing estates from deteriorating further’17.
The increasing popularity and frequency of use of the term ‘social exclusion’ reflects the government’s appreciation of the importance of this large issue.
As mentioned previously, individuals of various socio-economic levels can easily become excluded from society. Social exclusion is not just about being poor and living on a council estate; it is about literally not ‘fitting in’ with society. This encompasses an individual not being able or having the feeling that they are not able to go about daily duties that the average member of society performs. This includes shopping, travelling and socialising, but to name a few.
Housing organisations such as the Housing Corporation are funded by the Single Regeneration Budget and the City Challenge. Housing organisations are also developing their intra-organisational relations by involving themselves in various anti-poverty projects, mainly through the New Deal for communities18 and social exclusion projects through the Social Exclusion Unit.
The deterioration of council housing stock has intensified the social divide between home owners and council tenants.
Disadvantaged residents and their areas require constant attention and support. The levels of tight to insignificant budgets and mismanagement of staff and funding have left public services in a poor condition. This needs to be improved if they are to contribute towards the betterment of the troubled estates.
Whether such council estates will improve or continue to decline will depend on the response of its residents and the efforts of the local government and their housing organisations. More needs to be done to retain the current residents on the currently troubled council estates in order to prevent further residualisation of the social housing sector.
‘Participation in community-based activities is an important mechanism for social inclusion’19. Tenant involvement through the constant use of consultation and participation is one of the major solutions to social exclusion on council estates.
It is likely that initial efforts will be met with resistance but persistence is necessary if attitudes are to be changed reversed in order to function in the mainstream of society, rather than ‘anti-socially’.
The government and their housing organisations have lost the trust of those that have become excluded from society and left to take care of themselves. This has inadvertently created an exodus of people with particular group norms that do not fit in with mainstream society and so are considered anti-social.
Those that are socially excluded but do not fit into such group norms are greater victims, as they are totally alone and so receive the worst treatment.
More consultation and tenant participation in plans for regenerating the area. This will provide a greater sense of commitment for the residents and enable them to take more pride in their neighbourhood.