A renewed interest in social inclusion has highlighted the need for the simultaneous promotion of productivity, poverty reduction and greater inclusiveness. This paper argues that there are three key interrelated areas that are critical for poverty eradication and inclusive development: (i) universal social protection; (ii) meaningful participation; and (iii) social and solidarity economy. It calls for a more comprehensive approach to inclusion to ensure sustainable development and highlights examples of best practice from across the world.
This paper refers to social inclusion as a goal, process and outcome. As a universal goal, social inclusion aims to achieve an inclusive society that entails respect for human rights, cultural diversity and democratic governance, and upholds principles of equality and equity. As a process, it enables all citizens’ participation in decision-making activities that affect their lives. As an outcome, it ensures the reduction of inequalities, elimination of any forms of exclusion and discrimination, and achievement of social justice and cohesion.
There has been a tendency to treat social inclusion (1) as an expanded version of economic inclusion, (2) associate it with marginalisation based on race, ethnicity or gender and, (3) focus on individual wellbeing in analysis and measurement. Adopting a more comprehensive approach to inclusion involves three key interrelated areas:
- Universal social protection not only enhances productivity and raises human capital through the provision of income and social services; it also reduces poverty and inequality in its various dimensions and contributes to achieving more socially inclusive societies. There has been a shift from a narrow approach to social protection that targets specific vulnerable groups through cash transfers to more comprehensive social policies. Examples include: Thailand’s Universal Coverage Scheme; India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; Mozambique’s Basic Social Security Regulation.
- Meaningful participation is about strengthening disadvantaged individuals or groups’ capacity to influence decision-making processes and hold external actors and institutions to account for decisions that affect their lives. The participation of marginalised and often excluded groups can contribute to poverty eradication and lead to more equitable and inclusive outcomes. Examples include: affirmative action for disabled people accessing housing in Chile; women’s neighbourhood groups in India; and farmers associations in Zimbabwe.
- Social and solidarity economy (SSE) involves organisations and enterprises putting social, and often environmental, objectives before profit. The concept of ‘buen vivir’ and happiness are increasingly central. These initiatives are often community-based and encourage active citizenship. Examples include: Bolivia’s institutional framework; Ecuador’s national plan for good living; and at the subnational level in the Canadian province of Quebec.
- Social policy should be concerned with the welfare and rights of an individual but also with supporting social relations, institutions and structures through which the welfare of individuals in their households, communities and nations could be sustained and improved.
- Societal levels of analysis are needed alongside economic and/or individual indicators.
- The promotion and encouragement of partnerships between different actors and sectors is crucial. Yet the state should facilitate the involvement of all these important actors at national and local levels.
- Policies and strategies should be locally specific and historically contingent, grounded in the resource base and cultural and institutional set-up. The task is how to promote a kind of inclusion that favours the creation of a more equitable society, rather than expand social inclusion.