Social exclusion is the term used to describe the way certain individuals or groups are denied full access to benefits taken for granted by the majority.  They might be excluded because of their race, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or for reason of their disabled status. Stereotyping and discrimination rob them of the opportunities which should be open to them.

Why is social inclusion important?

Social exclusion has an emotional cost.  Those excluded have mixed feelings including depression, stress and shame.  Sometimes these emotions turn to anger about the obstacles that are put in their path and that they aren’t able to participate fully in society nor lead a life of dignity.  Ironically, feelings of anger against society and the need to take revenge can reinforce the prejudices that caused the problem in the first place.

Apart from the damage to the community ties which bind us, there’s also a financial cost.  Many of those excluded face financial difficulties especially when they need money urgently.  Although direct lenders in the UK are able to offer them a helping hand, this is only a short-term solution since the roots of the problem need to be tackled.

The financial cost is also felt at a regional and national level.  Denying individuals or groups educational or job opportunities has an impact on a country’s economy; employers don’t have access to the skilled workers they need to ensure economic prosperity.

How can we encourage social inclusion?  

Non-for-profit organisations like UNICEF work with governmental departments and organisations likeand/or legislation.  UNICEF carry out meticulous research about how social and economic the World Bank on a national and international level with the aim of encouraging social inclusion through funding policies affect families (especially mothers) and by extension, children too.  However, 85% of their work in 190 countries is done in the field from providing emergency relief in the aftermath of natural disasters or conflicts to ensuring internet access for all.

You don’t need to make a charitable donation, nor to work as a volunteer to  make a contribution at a grass-roots level. Only by an examination of our own individual prejudices can we start to tackle the harm that social exclusion does to our community.  Whether it’s offering a job to an immigrant or exchanging a friendly word, all of us can make a difference.

Education is the key to dealing with the problem.  Nationwide information campaigns and talks in community centres can encourage people to question their own stereotypes.  Schools and colleges also have a role to play. A project, talks or class discussions on social exclusion can ensure that children and adolescents grow up to be adults who welcome those who are different rather than treating them with fear, hatred and/or ignorance.