From social exclusion to social capital
According to the Prime Minister's Special Adviser Geoff Mulgan when New Labour came to power in 1997, discussion among policy makers and policy commentators was dominated by the language of social exclusion (Mulgan, 1998b). An observer noted that:
The term social exclusion has great appeal to many people because it provides a broad category that many people can identify their policy concern with. (Halpern 1998, p 269)
The government set up a Social Exclusion Unit (SEU), one of whose first priorities concerned regeneration – namely, to narrow the gap between the ‘worst estates’ and the rest of the country. For the SEU, the problem was that:
over the past 20 years, poverty has become more concentrated in individual neighbourhoods and estates than before, and the social exclusion of these neighbourhoods has become more marked. (SEU, 2000, p 7)
Two principles that guided the work of the SEU were that “this is about more than poverty” (2000, p 7) and that “a joined up problem has never been addressed in a joined up way” (SEU, 1998, p 9). Through a review of Tony Blair's pronouncements on social exclusion and poor neighbourhoods, and the broader literature on the subject (see Room, 1995; Jordan, 1996), we can identify some of the key characteristics of the term social exclusion (Figure 2.1).
In contrast to poverty, social exclusion is said to be a dynamic rather than a static concept, implying that people move in and out of exclusion, not necessarily in accord with the incidence of poverty, and that something can be done about it. Unlike poverty or deprivation, the assumption is that the negative state of exclusion is not simply transmitted in a fatalistic way across the generations. Social exclusion is also about disconnection from mainstream society in terms of distance, experience and aspiration. In Mulgan's words, “it defines better than poverty a situation in which large sections of the population are, in effect, cut off from qualifications, jobs and safe environments” (1998a, p 260). Thus, social exclusion highlights a lack of opportunities or prospects for the future.