Monday, 26 December 2011

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Inside the tent on social inclusion


Inside the tent on social inclusion

SOCIAL Inclusion Minister Mark Butler has moved to explain what his cabinet-level portfolio means, conceding that the language of social inclusion is "relatively new and perhaps unfamiliar".
Mr Butler, writing in The Australian, says the value in social inclusion is ensuring governments put together multidimensional and co-ordinated responses to stop teenage parents, jobless families, the homeless and people locked out of paid work falling through the cracks.
These people, he says, are the "real, everyday faces of social exclusion and marginalisation".
"While wrapping their needs up in the language of social inclusion is relatively new and perhaps unfamiliar; what's not new is our unwavering commitment to doing all we can to give those Australians a helping hand," Mr Butler writes.
In a bid to demystify the term social inclusion and address critics who have suggested the government has added another bureaucratic term to an old problem, Mr Butler says the concept is different from the established analysis of disadvantage that centres on poverty.
"Social inclusion recognises that disadvantage does not only rest on the amount of money you have in your pocket (though that is obviously important), but also on a range of other factors including educational opportunities, disability or mental illness, access to services and shelter, family and social relationships," he writes.
Mr Butler's outlining of his responsibilities comes after he was asked to explain social inclusion hours into his new job and said that it meant "different things to different people".
The rising South Australian star was elevated to cabinet this month in charge of mental health and ageing, social inclusion and as the Minister assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform.
The Australian revealed last week that Mr Butler's predecessor in the social inclusion role, Tanya Plibersek, twice last year asked the Social Inclusion Board to advise her on how to articulate the government's agenda.
The nine-member board was set up in 2008 and provides advice to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Mr Butler concedes the concept of complex and multidimensional disadvantage is "not particularly revolutionary" but argues that the value of social inclusion is ensuring governments can put together a multi-pronged response. He says Australians living with complex disadvantage have to deal with a range of government agencies and explain their circumstances and needs repeatedly to different offices.
"Worse, one arm of government rarely knows what the other is doing, which can result in duplication, gaps or, sometimes, serious mistakes," he writes.
"Social inclusion encourages governments to build multidimensional policies and services for Australians living with complex disadvantage.
"It also encourages the development of innovative models, recognising that more traditional approaches to disadvantage simply don't work for a sizeable group in our community."

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