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9. Social Inclusion

Social inclusion is a term linked to addressing the different processes of marginalisation in society. It embraces not only economic factors such as unemployment, poverty and inadequate incomes but also wider social issues of isolation, powerlessness and lack of influence and inequalities in terms of access to decision-making channels. Social exclusion exists in both urban and rural areas throughout the country. In the rural context, it manifests itself in terms of characteristics which reflect the distinctive features of rural life, particularly in more remote areas.

The White Paper acknowledges that Government intervention is required in order to ensure balanced regional development and provide a particular focus on addressing social inclusion needs. A strategy which aims to redress imbalances that may exist between urban and rural areas must also aim to tackle imbalances between and within rural areas in a targeted manner based on the principles of equity.

The creation of dynamic rural economies provides the best opportunity to address disadvantage in rural areas. However, while competitiveness and economic efficiency are vital and necessary economic policy objectives, they will not, in themselves, address the problems of poverty and social exclusion. If these problems are to be tackled effectively, sustained economic growth must be accompanied by a commitment to address the underlying problems of marginalisation and by parallel efforts to promote social inclusion.

Social exclusion in rural areas is frequently the result of multiple disadvantage. The difficulties experienced by vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with disabilities can be acute. People with disabilities can experience exclusion in relation to education, employment and training, transport and mobility which may be compounded by physical isolation. Such problems can only be addressed by targeted and integrated policy responses.

The problems of poverty and social exclusion in rural areas have a distinct impact on women. Economic dependency, isolation, unequal opportunity and participation are compounded by the problems of distance from services and amenities. The absence of an adequate transport service and affordable childcare services in many areas make it difficult for women to avail of training and education or to enter into or retain employment.

The Government has established the National Anti-Poverty Strategy to respond to the problems of poverty and social exclusion in Irish society on the following principles

  • ensuring equal access and encouraging participation for all,
  • guaranteeing the rights of minorities especially through anti-discrimination measures,the reduction of inequalities and in particular, addressing the gender dimensions of poverty,
  • the development of the partnership approach building on national and local partnership processes,
  • actively involving the community and voluntary sector,
  • encouraging self-reliance through respecting individual dignity and promoting empowerment, and
  • engaging in appropriate consultative processes, especially with service users.

In accordance with the "poverty proofing" procedures introduced as part of the implementation of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (1997), all significant policy proposals will be "proofed" to ensure that policy makers are aware of the likely impact of policy proposals on those in poverty.

The global target of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy is:-"Over the period 1997-2007, the National Anti-Poverty Strategy will aim at considerably reducing the numbers of those who are "consistently poor" from 9% to 15% to less than 5% to 10%, as measured by the ESRI."

A recent Report by the ESRI, "Monitoring Poverty Trends", shows that consistent poverty has now been reduced to 7-10% of the population. In light of this progress, the Government has set a new target of reducing consistent poverty to below 5% by 2004.

The objective in relation to Rural Poverty, which is one of five key themes in the overall strategy, is"to tackle poverty and social exclusion in rural areas in a comprehensive and sustained manner by ensuring the provision of an adequate income, through employment and/or income support and access to adequate services and infrastructure, co-ordination of responses and empowerment of local people and communities".

The strategy set out in the White Paper endorses and supports the objectives contained in the National Anti-Poverty Strategy and will ensure that the overall strategy for rural development is underpinned by a socially inclusive dimension.

For example, the County Strategies will contain a particular focus on poverty and social exclusion in their areas. The County Development Boards will help to ensure an integrated, targeted response to the needs of specific groups in the local community by local authorities, the State Agencies and the local development bodies in consultation and co-operation with the voluntary and community sectors. The Boards will also give local expression to the National Employment Action Plan.