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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]




The European Union is seeing a paradox emerge in its rural areas and in its urban areas. Whereas the countries which make up the Union have never been so rich and “competition” and “performance” have never been so important, the demand for social protection is growing even faster than in the past. This comes at a time when most of the Member States are deciding to consolidate their finances by limiting public expenditure. Thus, the level of people’s dependence on social protection systems has probably never been so great since the end of World War II.

This paradox can be explained by a set of demographic, social and economic factors which together are putting pressure on social protection systems. The ageing of the population in general (combined with a concentration of elderly people in certain rural areas) and the practice of early retirement are coming in the wake of higher unemployment both in number and duration (since 1982, the unemployment rate has continued to remain over 8% in the European Union). Because unemployment benefit systems were designed to provide a temporary income to the jobless, over half the Union’s unemployed have had to resort to other forms of assistance [28] this past decade.

Furthermore, in addition to the problems related to the structure and extent of the protection system, social exclusion has specific characteristics in rural areas because of their isolation, the scattering of their population and their restructuring. The loss of confidence in traditional values, the disappearance of job security and the shortage of housing, the lack of local prospects, etc. have incalculable consequences on social links and therefore on the social cohesion of rural areas. Interventions aimed at the individual, especially the individual categorised as “excluded” or a “welfare recipient”, cannot solve the problems of this dimension. Therefore new tailored solutions more and more need to be found at the local level.

However, to boost the capacity to intervene locally, reforms have to be introduced to encourage in particular consultation and coherence between the different institutional frameworks through partnerships. More statistical work also remains to be done in order to have a differentiated reading of the phenomenon for rural and urban areas. Further analysis of exclusion and cohesion trends is necessary for a clearer picture of the current changes under way in rural areas.

This document has only looked at a few aspects of the problem. A lot of questions remain unanswered, particularly the extent to which the exclusion problem is taken into account in local rural development strategies. By making a better quality of life one of its main priority areas of intervention, the new Community Initiative LEADER+ might bring new solutions and help elaborate pilot methods of intervention to fight exclusion in rural areas.


[28] European Commission, Directorate-General
for Employment, Industrial Relations and Social Affairs,
Social protection in Europe, 1997, p.13.

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