Social Exclusion – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – January 2014

As Doorway celebrates our tenth birthday this month it is worth looking at why there is a need for the organisation to exist in the first place and the common theme running through all the different stories of our guests is that of social exclusion.

Social exclusion is formally defined as “exclusion from the prevailing social system and its rights and privileges, typically as a result of poverty or the fact of belonging to a minority social group”. Or it can be neatly summed up with the phrase “the failure of society to provide certain individuals and groups with those rights and benefits normally available to its members, such as employment, adequate housing, health care, education and training, etc”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation publishes reports annually on the monitoring of poverty and disadvantage across the UK and their 2013 report states that in 2011/12, 13 million people in the UK were living in poverty and for the first time more than half of these people lived in a working family.

That’s a working family living in poverty. Not a family on benefits as portrayed by the media as scroungers. And there is no financial incentive for a family to stay on benefits either since according to the JRF “the level of benefits for an out-of-work adult without children now covers only 40 per cent of what the public considers to be a minimum standard of living. For families with children this figure is no more than 60 per cent.”

In a news article this week, as a response to the screening of the controversial Channel 4 documentary series “Benefits Street”, the Chief Executive of a Birmingham Housing Association stated that “The proportion of housing benefit claimants who are in work is rising and fast approaching 1 million. These are the people who work but, because of low pay, still claim housing benefit because wages are not keeping up with the ever-increasing cost of living. Around 90% of new housing benefits claimants are already in work – in a range of jobs.”

Sociologists state that there is a clear link between levels of social exclusion and crime rates. It’s not really rocket science – if the socially excluded population cannot meet the materialistic and  financial status promoted by society then people are likely to resort to illegal means (crime) over more legitimate ones. And on the bottom level if you can’t afford to feed your family then you are simply going to try and come up with another means of just getting by…

But what happens when someone really wants to turn their life around and get a second chance? There are a number of our guests who are stuck in a pattern of behaviour and actually want to make significant changes to their lives. As one of our guests stated, rather eloquently, very recently:-

“I have not done anything constructive within the parameters that society deems normal, for such a long time, I don’t think I am now able.

Having not worked for many years or been a part of a group of peers other than addicts I feel that trying to fit in and be ‘normal’ is something that I can no longer do.

I feel abandoned because I cannot escape my past. I want to move forward but I am afraid to. One can only take so much negativity and I have had my fill.

It is worse because I am more than able to do what is required of me if only I be given the opportunity. Yet any chance seems to elude me. No matter how hard I try.”

The problem is that he really wants to turn his life around but he is faced by the ongoing issue of social exclusion. And that is where the work of Doorway is so critical, we exist in order to support him, and all the others, whilst they continue their struggle to be more inclusive in society.

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