Fostering social inclusion
The concept of inclusion
According to the dictionary, the word inclusion refers to the act of including, of incorporating an element into a group.
In the social sphere, being included means feeling accepted: belonging to a group of people, a society, and being able to fully enjoy all the rights and opportunities that it entails.
Inclusion is radically different from both assimilation and integration. To be included in a group, you shouldn’t have to adapt or change your personal characteristics to be the same as everyone else.
In the words of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, “inclusion does not imply locking members into a community that closes itself off from others. The ‘inclusion of the other’ means rather that the boundaries of the community are open for all, also and most especially for those who are strangers to one another and want to remain strangers.”
(The Inclusion of the Other, 2013)
The causes of social exclusion
An inclusive society must, therefore, eliminate all forms of discrimination.
Differences among individuals that can lead to social exclusion include:
Discrimination based on any of these factors can happen in any environment: in the workplace (for instance, if an employer decides whether or not to hire a candidate based on their gender), in politics (if an ethnic group isn’t properly represented in government institutions), or in society (if access to essential services isn’t guaranteed to people with disabilities). Social exclusion is the inability of an individual to fully participate in the life of the community.
Social exclusion can also derive from conditions of deprivation and hardship. A lack of adequate economic resources often results in limited access to social environments like education, health care, employment, housing, technology, and political and cultural life. Economic marginalization can easily lead to social isolation and loss of a sense of belonging. Hence, poverty and exclusion are closely correlated to one another, and one is often a cause of the other. Poverty also impacts interpersonal relationships: financial insecurity can lead to loneliness, poor social skills, lack of family and social connections, and marginalization.
According to the latest data from ISTAT (the Italian National Institute of Statistics), there are 5,600,000 people enduring economic hardship in Italy, which is 9.4% of the population, equal to over two million families. The 2020 Study on Poverty and Social Exclusion in Italy issued by Caritas underscores how much the COVID-19 emergency has affected the “nouveau poor”: the number of people who asked for assistance for the first time increased from 31% to 45%.