Building Blocks of Social Inclusion
OPINION EDITORIAL RELEASED 6 DEC 2012 BY PRO BONO:
Last week Australia marked Social Inclusion week. To build a more socially inclusive Australia, governments, business, the Not for Profit sector, communities and individuals all need to work together, says Lin Hatfield Dodds, the Chair Australian Social Inclusion Board.
Social Inclusion Week raises awareness of the importance of connecting with people in our community and looking out for one another. It also provides an opportunity to refocus on Australians who are at risk of being socially excluded and what works to bridge gaps and break down barriers so that they fully participate in community life.
When we talk about social exclusion, we are talking about kids growing up in families where no one has a job. People caring for family members with severe disability, who are isolated in their community.
Homeless people, whose daily concern is finding their next meal and a safe place to sleep.
People who’ve missed out on opportunities because of circumstances beyond their control. People who don’t have access to the resources they need to live a decent life and join in the life of their local community.
In Australia we see growing pockets of intergenerational poverty, and people caught in a spiral of long-term disadvantage.
Australia’s strong economy and standard of living are the envy of many developed countries. Our social safety net includes access to health care on the basis of need regardless of our capacity to pay. We have a modest income support system and we are working to address gaps in aged care, mental health care and disability support.
But most efforts to address disadvantage focus on single issues rather than looking at the whole person. This approach works for many people because they may only be experiencing one problem at a time, or because they are able to access and benefit from support services.
But, despite decades of increased investment in social services, recent research by the Australian Social Inclusion Board revealed that around five per cent of Australians are still missing out.
So what is needed to ensure all citizens get the opportunity for a decent life? Children need to be safe and both mother and child need to be healthy. People need access to quality child care, early childhood education and education and training. People need long-term meaningful jobs.
And people need access to support systems when they need them, to health care, to mental health care support, to dental care, to parenting skills and support.Good work has been done, but there is much more we can do, as a civil society, to address the structural barriers and underlying causes of disadvantage.
We need to shine a torch on people’s strengths and on the strengths of local communities to create pathways out of disadvantage. Location- based approaches are essential, where local community leaders are able to listen to what people want, identify gaps in local services and develop practical, tailored programs where they are needed the most.
Key to the social inclusion approach is giving a high priority to early intervention and prevention and making sure that government services are not siloed but are joined-up and holistic, and work in partnership with non-government services.
Planning programs to be sustainable is critical. The value of continuing a service where relationships and trust are already established and where headway is already being made is far higher in the long run than periodic crisis interventions.
And we need to make sure our policy and programs are underpinned by an evidence base through robust research, data collection and feedback from the coalface.
This year, Social Inclusion Week focused on mental health. Improving the lives of people living with mental illness, and the experiences of their carers, is a key priority for the Government. Social Inclusion Week coincided with the launch of the National Report card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. The themes of the report card align closely with the social inclusion approach, and highlight that Australians living with mental illness want a contributing life.
The Mental Health report card highlights the need to link housing, employment, education, family and social support and physical health to help people to live contributing lives. And that all of us, not just governments, can play a part in enabling those living with and recovering from mental illness to achieve the life they want.
No government in the world has cracked the code to enabling their most disadvantaged citizens to overcome all the barriers they face to belonging and contributing, but the social inclusion approach improves our understanding of the underlying, interdependent causes of disadvantage, and the holistic, joined-up policy responses which are needed.
All of us, including the most disadvantaged people in our communities have aspirations for a job, friends, family and a home. To help people realise these aspirations, and to build a more socially inclusive Australia, governments, business, the Not for Profit sector, communities and individuals all need to work together.