Fighting social exclusion in rural areas
[ Summary ]
Social exclusion, a multidimensional phenomenon
1.3 From “poverty” to “social exclusion”
The notion of “social exclusion” which is different from that of
“poverty” emerged at the end of the 1980s with the appearance of
new forms of social distress against a backdrop of European
economic growth and improved competitiveness.
These new forms of social distress are the result of socio-economic
processes which for the hardest hit mean not only long-term
unemployment or the impossibility of finding their first job but
also a diminished sense of belonging. They are left without social
links, points of reference and status.
Exclusion implies deprivation of a kind different from poverty. The
excluded are deprived of an opinion and political weight while
society becomes more tolerant of inequalities.
Social exclusion is also and above all not having access to basic
services, beginning with those which, like housing and food, are
necessary for survival and human dignity. Need we be reminded that
today in the European Union about 1.1 million citizens (and even
1.8 million at certain times of the year) everyday rely on services
for the homeless? In Germany, the United Kingdom and France  in
particular, their number is considerable.
So what are the determining factors of social exclusion?
The loss of a job (or for young people the inability to find a job)
is generally the element that triggers the exclusion process. The
reason can be economic redundancy, the end of a contract of
specified duration, short-time working, early retirement or any
other form of interruption of employment. Of course, losing a job
does not automatically set into motion the exclusion process, but
prolonged unemployment together with little qualification is enough
to activate this process.
However, the loss of a job is not the only element triggering the
exclusion process. Other factors, which may accompany the loss of
work, play the same role. Certain elements are specific to certain
particularly vulnerable age categories. Adolescents in particular
can see their lives destroyed. Events often related to poverty or
the marginalisation of families, such as failure at school or
abandonment by the family, can occur and lead to a series of
exclusions. Elderly people are also particularly vulnerable.
According to EUROSTAT, in 1995 the proportion of households
composed of one person 65 years or older was 3 to 4 times greater
in the low-income groups in certain countries like Ireland,
Portugal, Denmark, or Greece.
More generally, social exclusion is also the result of a change in
the social welfare mechanisms and a shift in today’s dominant
In the aftermath of World War II, the virtual eradication of
absolute poverty was accompanied in the industrialised European
societies by income security and redistribution measures. These
were ensured by the Welfare State and presented as the guarantee of
the well-being of all citizens. In those days, it also looked like
growth and full employment were going to last.
With the crisis in the 1970s and the first major industrial
restructurings, the decline in the purchasing power of families
affected by unemployment revealed a “new poverty”. Since then,
residual poverty is no longer the issue. Unemployment has become a
lasting phenomenon, leading to forms of marginalisation that are
now called “exclusion”.
Thus, a society where poverty looked set to disappear has been
replaced by a society where social exclusion appears as an
intrinsic, or even inevitable, phenomenon. What is more, the
conditions to access forms of social protection are becoming
tougher, and employment incentive measures (increased
“employability”, development of the spirit of enterprise,
encouragement of company and employee flexibility, funding of equal
opportunity policies)  are on the rise against a backdrop of
 Committee of the Regions, The Homeless
and housing question, Draft opinion, Brussels,
23 March 1999, p.9
 This approach to the problem is
developed in the Commission report “Modernising and
improving social protection in the European Union”
(COM (97)102) and in the “Guidelines on employment”
approved by the Council (OJ C30, 28 January 1998)