A Study On The Social Exclusion Social Policy
Social exclusion is defined as ' a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low income, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health, poverty and family breakdown' (SEU 1999). It is a key part in the Labour government's terminology in which they aim to tackle the problem of social exclusion by increasing social inclusion. The role of housing if often closely linked when discussing social exclusion and Somerville defined this role as' Social exclusion through housing happens if the effect of housing processes is to deny certain social groups control over their daily lives, or to impair enjoyment of wider citizenship rights'.
Housing policy has always had a broader remit than just that of meeting social needs. (Clapham,D - Housing and Social Policy). The policy is also related to state intervention, which occurs through in-kind provision, subsidies and regulation of the market. It is important as it provides a sense of welfare and security by meeting the basic needs of an individual; a roof over your head is a primary need. It also generates community cohesion and a good housing policy would foster community cohesion and happiness. There is also economic importance in which a private house is a person's most significant personal asset. There are many issues within the housing policy; it is estimated that there is a £20 billion repairs backlog in the social housing sector with 1.6 million (38% of stock) below decent standards. There is also a further 1.6 million in the private sector in a similarly poor condition. In addition to this, it is estimated that over the next 20 years, 4.3 million new homes will be needed which raises some questions including 'where will they be built'? And 'how may will be "affordable" homes'?
Housing is one of the scarce resources, which determine the general quality of life, and its uneven distribution is an important aspect in the inequality of Britain today (Morris, Housing and social inequality). Housing is central to a wide range of social issues and problems; including benefit traps, affordability of housing and the issue that poor housing has strong links with poor health. Initially, in the 1970s there were pressures to confine council residual role. Owner occupation was still increasing which meant cutting back on council housing and encouraging the better off council tenants and potential clients to decline instead. There was also a long-term decline of private renting resulting in the poorer people having to turn to council housing. (Birchall,J - Housing policy in the 1990s)
The state support of housing has shifted over the last century due to the restructuring of the housing policy post 1979. The building of council houses was subsidised showing a growth in the state provision of housing in the first ¾ of the century. The last ¼ and up to the present day, has seen the increase of public subsidy being financed by the private sector. Social exclusion occurred as a result of this housing policy due to these changes in housing subsidies over the last decade, which has been an important aspect in the government's privatisation strategy. The end result of the subsidy changes and a wider economic policy is the increase in housing costs to the individual household. The people who were experiencing economic disadvantage before the new strategy have a higher risk of experiencing housing disadvantage and thus social exclusion.
The 1980's were a key period for major housing policy changes. This was demonstrated in the 1980s when there was an increase in homelessness, as a result of the economic downturn, which caused high unemployment and a rise in mortgage arrears and ultimately repossessions. Also the lack of cheap, low-quality accommodation, coinciding with a reduction in the available benefits increased the homelessness numbers. Subsequently, this disadvantaged sector of society became further excluded as they were removed from both stable, secure employment and also the housing sector. During the early parts of the 1980s, subsidies from Central government to local authorities were also withdrawn resulting in the increase of council rents to maintain their revenue. This caused the number of council tenants on housing benefit to increase and also, an increasing incentive for those paying full rent, to purchase their property, as the government would assist these people in the purchasing of their house. (Morris). Many people especially young people could not take advantage of this and obtain rented accommodation as 'single people are not regarded as a priority by local authorities when accepting claims for help under the Housing Act, once more showing how housing does perpetuate social exclusion. This is because these individuals do not 'have the opportunity to participate in the social and political life of the community' (a definition by Kenyan et al) as they cannot become part of one by purchasing a property.
Other effects of this post 1979 restructuring policy include the majority of housing in the 'nice' areas were bought by middle-aged income earners, leaving a narrow range of social housing, of poor quality for the young and elderly perpetuating their social exclusion within this sector. Rent levels increased especially for Housing Association tenants whereby they had to pay more than council tenants, further excluding them. The restructuring policy also contributed to the rapid rise in house prices during the property boom of the late 1980s in which the average price of house was £150,000, making it difficult for the average person to get onto the property ladder.
The Labour government's housing policies appeared to exclude certain groups even further. The party often identify council tenants as poor and unable to provide for themselves preventing the tenants from integrating into society. For example, Labours housing White Paper of 1965 had stigmatising effects in which council housing was seen as an inferior tenure to home ownership. This was a result of them declaring the role for state provision and assigned mainstream provision to the market. Over the last 20 years it has been noted that hundreds of poor neighbourhoods have become detached from the rest of society. The main cause of this was the decline in the popularity of social housing due to the government's policy. However, there was a combination of other factors ranging from economic decline and mass joblessness to family breakdown, which further excluded them. Also, New Labour's housing policy is too prolonged in which it is designed to tackle the problems of the worst areas through a joined-up government (a policy to make different departments in the same government work together to combat the multiple problems faced by individuals and communities), while adopting a laissez-faire attitude and leaving most housing issues to the private market. Further social exclusion has resulted from the continuation of the policy practices as a growing reliance on the market has developed.
Recent policy emphasises the need to create more balanced communities on or near social housing estates by introducing more owner-occupiers (Marsh, A). This may not actually benefit those living in social housing as it may further perpetuate social exclusion due to costs rising. This could occur as the area becomes wealthier as a result of the higher income earners (owning houses) locating nearby and thus becoming more popular. Another solution implemented by the authorities, to attempt to minimise social exclusion is by 'pepperpotting', that is to integrate social housing with the private sector. However the resulting obstacle and objection from the private sector residents is 'NIMBY' (not in my back yard) as the value of their properties may fall and their 'nice' area may lose its appeal with the introduction of these disadvantaged social groups.
To conclude, the language of social exclusion has been readily adopted in housing policy and organisations, which have had a key role to play in combating social exclusion. However, many problems have been identified as a result of housing policy including the processes of residualisation, affordability issues and problems with the management of social housing. These have led to the poorest households having little choice but to live in adverse conditions (Marsh, Alex - housing policy). Social exclusion can only be dealt with when the issues that people are excluded from have been identified. Dr Alex Marsh also states that there may be 'areas or households who do not consider themselves as socially excluded but would be classed as such by an objective measure...if we consider social exclusion to be defined without reference to subjective states then it could increase the extent of social exclusion'. Certain groups, for example, members of ethnic minorities have overcrowding issues, a noticed tenure distribution and a geographic concentration. This has occurred due to them excluding themselves from adequate housing as a strategy from avoiding racial harassment and not from the policy initially excluding them. When discussing housing policy, the Labour government have now noted housing and ethnicity issues as a problem and thus have further perpetuated social exclusion within this group when they may have not initially thought of themselves as socially excluded. This is one example of how housing policy has prolonged exclusion and there are many more including homelessness and the segregation between the social housing sector and homeowners.