The importance of social inclusion

Woman sitting in a cafe, laughing and talking

What is social inclusion – a definition

Social inclusion means that all people have the best opportunities to enjoy life and do well in society – and making sure no one is left out or excluded.

This is not just an ideal – the ability to participate in society, and to be free from discrimination and disadvantage is a basic human right that is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as several other treaties that make up the body of international law.

This includes equal opportunities to:

  • Access education and training,
  • Have fair employment,
  • Have a safe, secure home,
  • Use healthcare, public transport and other services,
  • Connect with family, friends and the local community,
  • Deal with personal crises such as ill health, and
  • Be heard and influence decisions that affect them.

In an inclusive society everyone has a meaningful, valued place in society, regardless of their

  • Age,
  • Cultural background and ethnicity,
  • Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation,
  • Differing abilities,
  • Religious beliefs,
  • Education, and
  • Life experiences.

Without social inclusion – the opposite phenomenon occurs – social exclusion, or the restriction of access to and an ability to participate in society.

Sadly, Australia still has a long way to go to become a fully inclusive society: To date, more than 1.2 million people in Australia are experiencing profound social exclusion, and 25 percent of all Australians are subject to some degree of social exclusion.

Discrimination often leads to social exclusion

Much of social exclusion stems from discrimination of individuals or groups, based on attributes, or social, economic and physical disadvantages. Discrimination can impact a person’s employment and income, their access to health care, education and other services. It can also make it very difficult to participate in their community – for example, in work, or in joining a community group.

Discrimination based on protected attributes – such as age, sex, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation in certain areas of public life, including education and employment is against the law, and federal legislation protects against this.

In the last few decades, legislation has been introduced to address this – but nearly one in four Australians still experience ‘everyday’ forms of discrimination at least weekly and every fifth Australian reports having experienced a form of major discrimination.

Specifically, First Nations peoples, the LGBTIQA+ community, religious minorities and people living with a disability are among the groups that continue to experience the most discrimination and are facing marginalisation and additional barriers to access services and participate in the community.

As a consequence, people experiencing discrimination are more likely to have poor health wellbeing outcomes and are at greater risk of homelessness.

Why is social inclusion important?

Social inclusion is important for a person’s dignity, security and opportunity to lead a better life.

It has been proven over and over again how important it is to support individuals to feel connected and valued within society and address any form of social exclusion people are experiencing every day.

Research shows participating in society and having people you can rely on are key determinants of health and wellbeing and one of the most powerful predictors of positive outcomes following exposure to trauma.

Social inclusion is also inextricably linked to economic participation. Without opportunities to work, study and access training, it leaves people facing entrenched poverty.

But social inclusion is not only vital for a person’s wellbeing; the wider community and our economy benefit too:

Social inclusion is good for our community – and the economy

Social exclusion affects millions of people in Australia. It forces marginalised communities to opt out of markets, services and spaces, with significant tolls to both individuals and the economy.

Researchers have calculated social exclusion costs the Australian economy $45 billion each year.

Experts estimate by making our society more inclusive, we could boost Australia’s productivity, improve employment outcomes and reduce costs for our public health and social system – which would lead to a GDP growth of $12.7 billion per year.

Social inclusion and homelessness

Social exclusion is one of the primary causes for homelessness. Without strong support networks, traumatic life events can leave people with nowhere to turn.

At the same time, homelessness can lead to increased and persistent social exclusion.

When people lose their homes, they often lose their social networks and support too. The feeling of not belonging in our society that many people experience can impact their sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

With no opportunities to connect with the community or contribute to society, it can be incredibly hard for them to break the cycle of homelessness.

How Sacred Heart Mission achieves social inclusion for people experiencing homelessness

Many people who access Sacred Heart Mission’s services have experienced persistent social exclusion and the majority have been exposed to multiple traumatic events in their lives.

Through our programs, such as our successful Journey to Social Inclusion program (J2SI), we support people to achieve a sense of social inclusion; because we know how vital it is for people in order to exit homelessness for good.

View video transcript

Journey to Social Inclusion – ending homelessness in Australia

In this video, Sacred Heart Mission CEO Cathy Humphrey, former J2SI Program Manager Karen Lococo and Anna Paris, former Operations Manager Engagement Hubs and Individual Planned Support, talk about the J2SI program and what makes it one of the most successful initiatives to end homelessness in Australia. We also hear from Professor Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia, who assessed the impact of J2SI.

Anna Paris: Often the people that we’re working with, they’ve been entrenched in long-term cycles of homelessness. They’ve often had different life issues that have impacted on them and actually worsened during their experience of homelessness – issues around drug and alcohol use, mental health or lack of connection with their friends, family, and community, often a loss of employment or inability to get back into meaningful employment and a lot of social isolation as well.

Cathy Humphrey: Our journey in terms of developing J2SI actually began a decade ago. And by and large, what we found back then is that people were cycling in and out of homelessness. Traditionally, government funds programs with kind of shorter durations, three months of support. And it’s kind of the same approach for everyone.

J2SI differentiates and says, ‘for this particular group of people who’ve experienced long-term homelessness a different approach is required.’

Karen Lococo: We work with people for up to three years. So we’re able to track them over time and really get a sense of what works for them. And if something’s not working, we can adapt the approach and we can refer them somewhere else.

Prof. Paul Flatau: Journey to Social Inclusion program is built around a holistic approach: big focus on housing; they’ve got very good health supports, recognising the mental health, physical health and drug and alcohol issues that many face.

Anna Paris: It provides a component that we call building up skills, helping people connect into the community and also get into employment or some other sort of meaningful activity.

One of the big things that we’re doing over the three years of support that J2SI provides is really looking at how do we promote independence for people so that they can move away from the homelessness service system and be part of the broader community like everyone else.

Karen Lococo: We had a guy who was sleeping wherever he could and now he’s in an apartment, he’s working full time. He’s connected with his case manager, but beyond that, he started to connect with his family again. And that’s a lot of what we’ve seen. We’ve seen people who start to feel like people again.

Prof. Paul Flatau: What we found with Journey to Social Inclusion is a long-term success. We are seeing better housing rates and that’s critical to stability and success in the future.

Cathy Humphrey: We ran a pilot of J2SI between 2009 and 2012. So that allowed us to look at what was the cost of the intervention versus the cost benefit of the actual outcome for the individual.

Prof. Paul Flatau: The cost of providing support on average is much less than the cost to the government of not providing support – particularly in the health area, but also in the justice area, particularly for younger people.

Cathy Humphrey: We think there’s an opportunity to takeJ2SI under license across Australia so that we can work in partnership with service providers through a center of excellence, to deliver J2SI to so many more Australians that are living in long-term homelessness.

Anna Paris: We are now doing the second phase of J2SI, which is scaling up and replicating with more people over a greater area and the next exciting step is to run a phase three for J2SI. And that will actually be scaled up to support 180 people over a five-year period. So we’ll actually have three intakes of 60 in year one, in year two and year three, starting from August this year. So that’s really exciting.

Cathy Humphrey: For investors, you need to understand that it is a proven credible model. We know it works and we know it delivers impacts for people. It is a safe investment.

Prof. Paul Flatau: From a stable base you can get into employment and therefore, welfare costs are reduced. And at the same time, tax increases. You’re looking at a range of benefits to government and therefore to society which are purely financial in nature. Coming from a broader economic position, I would say that society as a whole is prepared to accept a cost to providing support to seeing people in a much better position than they are.

Cathy Humphrey: I know J2SI has impacts, I know, J2SI changes lives, and it’s exciting to be part of that.

Our experienced staff works with people to identify goals that are meaningful to them and to achieve outcomes around housing, health and wellbeing, independence and social and economic participation.

Acknowledging that marginalisation comes from structural exclusion, we also continue to address the underlying causes of deep, persistent disadvantage and social exclusion in our society through our advocacy work in public and behind closed doors.

What is Social Inclusion Week?

Social Inclusion Week is held annually in November, and aims to help all Australians feel included and valued, giving everyone the opportunity to participate fully in society.

It is designed to connect local communities, colleagues, family and friends, in order to build and strengthen relationships or networks and address isolation and exclusion of those who may be marginalised.

How you can help create an inclusive community

If you would like to get involved and help promote social inclusion in your network, here are a few ideas what you can do on a personal level to make our world more inclusive:

  • Accept everyone is different and be welcoming to people of all sorts of backgrounds and experiences.
  • Support organisations like Sacred Heart Mission that promote social inclusion.
  • The first step to getting involved with our community is to sign up for our monthly newsletter, Heartbeat.
  • Add your voice to advocacy campaigns that promote equality or tackle racism and other forms of discrimination.
  • Talk to your local MP about the benefits of social inclusion and ways to enhance inclusion in your community.
  • Keep an eye out for and spread the word about national awareness days, such as Pride Month in May, Homelessness Week in August, Anti-Poverty Week in October and Social Inclusion Week every November.

Do you have more ideas how we all can help create a more inclusive society? Then message us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook or complete our contact form. We can’t wait to hear from you.