From the foreword by Chris Jones:
In thinking about how fair or equitable our society is, many of us talk less about disadvantage and poverty now, and more about social exclusion and inclusion. While that change in thinking was also embraced by the last government, with then Deputy Prime Minister Gillard being Minister for Social Inclusion, it faded a little in the past year.
If our society—a diverse array of overlapping communities—truly values every person in it, then disadvantage within society needs to be addressed and everybody included. Social exclusion, the combination of background and circumstance that prevent people from participating actively in society, is the inequity—the hard edge that many can’t see. In the first essay of this report, Michael Horn teases out very important work on measuring social exclusion across Australia. It helps explain who is most likely to be excluded, how complicated that is for them, and why there are no simple answers.
Part of the challenge is that people are individuals. No across-the-board initiative can offer a path into connection and purpose, or hope, for people on the edge of our society. As the essays in this report make clear, everyone has their own journey and often the best that we can do is to stick by each other.
Of course, we are not only individuals. There is a strength and meaning that comes with being connected, belonging to families and to communities. These essays point to the role that communities can play, when treated with respect, in providing mutual support and developing the capacity of their members.
The other side of that notion is that communities in themselves can exclude people; they are not inherently fair or equitable. Furthermore, when overwhelmed by external events, communities can fracture. People may stick by each other under stress, in the short term. But when overrun by development or changing circumstances, there may no longer be a place for everyone.
And society is a grander concept than communities. The delivery of health, housing, schools and aged care, the protection of our environment and the development of our industries, are not something that communities of different size and ‘fighting weight’ can or should be asked to do. An inclusive society needs those wider resources of government to be harnessed responsibly and play their part.
If people live with stress and ill health, if housing is unaffordable and insecure, if the workplace is not prepared to take on willing workers, then understanding the complexity of social exclusion will not overcome it. Neither will encouraging people to better connect with each other and look to their inner strength; which can be just an exercise in spreading blame.
These essays reflect experiences of Anglicare agencies across Australia, over many years. They offer an historical perspective and future insight into the destructive pressure of today’s multi-speed society.
In the key essay in Staying Power, Michael Horn from the Brotherhood of St Laurence describes a new national project which measures social exclusion, and reports on who it affects and how. He shows how people are trapped in poverty and exclusion; and that it's not just one, it's both.
Di O’Neil from St Luke’s at Bendigo follows a more than 15-year journey with a suburban regional community, that ‘brings people in’ by taking its time: through patience, curiosity and listening.
Real doubts about the notion of community engagement and the capacity of communities to survive the resource boom tidal wave in Central Queensland surface in Philip Shade’s essay. At its core is the question of home and what it has come to mean for those swamped by change.
Ian Fisher then goes on to show the significance of individual journeys in the central Australian context of deep and entrenched exclusion and inequality for Indigenous Australians.
Jo Flanagan from Anglicare Tasmania concludes by asking us some big questions about the real roles—intended or imposed—for communities, and community organisations such as Anglicare, in promoting wellbeing and inclusion.