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.

Loneliness and social exclusion

There are growing concerns that loneliness is increasing globally, and that this is having a negative impact on health and wellbeing. Recent research from Swinburne University has highlighted that one in four Australian adults are lonely.

Experiencing loneliness increases the risk of depression and anxiety about social interactions; and simultaneously, experiencing depression and anxiety also increases the chance of being lonely.

Loneliness is not a new phenomenon, but its’ impacts on health and wellbeing are under researched, particularly for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. Some recent research does suggest that people on low incomes and with housing stress are at greater risk of loneliness. In our experience, this is accurate, as many of our clients report feelings of loneliness and social exclusion. This was exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic, due to lockdowns and the closure of essential services, but is an ongoing challenge for our clients beyond the end of pandemic restrictions.









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.

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, Homelessness Week, Anti-Poverty Week and Social Inclusion Week.

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.