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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Diagnosis and strategies to fight
social exclusion in rural areas


2.2 Analysing what is being done: taking
stock of practices to fight social exclusion


Once the magnitude of the problem of social exclusion has been determined and its peculiar features in an area understood, the available remedies can be examined. These remedies are the forms of intervention introduced by the state and government agencies and the interventions of private bodies such as charity and humanitarian organisations, associations, mutual benefit societies or social cooperatives.


2.2.1 state interventions

The state intervenes at several levels in the fight against social exclusion.

  • Specific measures have been adopted in the fight against unemployment. It is the state (with the increasing help of the local authorities) which registers the unemployed and grants them assistance (unemployment benefits) and which manages systems to help them find jobs and obtain vocational training. But the state also intervenes by directly creating jobs (“jobs for young people” in France, “public jobs” in Italy, Spain, etc.). In most countries, specific agencies are responsible for coordinating this.

  • Specific measures have also been adopted to fight poverty and have different forms depending on the country. The United Kingdom, for example, has introduced the “Working Families Tax Credit” while other countries provide income support.

  • Already for many years now there have been specific measures for the more traditional forms of exclusion, like those suffered by disabled people in the area of health, services or training.

Generally, state interventions to fight social exclusion have the following characteristics:

  • they are relatively sectorial and are for a target group defined by a specific handicap (young unemployed, long-term unemployed, single-parent families, disabled, etc.);

  • there is centralised decision-making for the entire national or regional area, which sometimes makes the transfers invisible for the local authorities;

  • they are of an administrative nature and the human relationship is often absent or greatly dependent on the goodwill of the officials concerned;

  • there is no continuation in the long-term - there are more and more mechanisms, elaborated case by case depending on the urgency and available funds;

  • the interventions do not involve the communities concerned in the search for solutions and do not clearly state what local impact the mechanism is expected to have;

  • the interventions are more a response to pre-established standards than to objectives defined on the ground.

In short, state interventions should take greater account of the context and local potential. However, it is true that a willingness to decentralise public interventions exists. The municipalities in particular are involved in the elaboration of so-called “community” programmes whose main aim is to create social or public jobs. The idea of “territorial pacts” where all the local partners have a say is a move in this direction to redistribute skills and to achieve coherence in the intervention mechanisms.

A certain change is also perceptible in the willingness to involve local partners in the local application of national anti-exclusion measures.

Furthermore, the social state is being entirely restructured in Europe, and an attempt is being made to substitute “active” policies of inclusion for “passive” polices”. But because the inclusion and anti-exclusion measures are often designed to complement social protection systems, exclusion is becoming institutionalised. The mechanisms set up have created a specific sector, the sector of the excluded, which we are seeing today is difficult to get out of [20]. By only treating the symptoms of exclusion and not dealing with the mechanisms that are generating it, there is a great risk that the weakest groups will be marginalised and assigned an exception status and be barred entry back to the mainstream of social life.

What is more, some of the characteristics of inclusion policies sometimes make interventions on the ground difficult:

  • the policies lack continuity and are confined to temporary selective mechanisms which depending on available funds are introduced without any overall coherence;

  • these policies make little if any use of the capacities of individuals to improve their situation, creating and maintaining forms of dependence on social services;

  • there are no or too few impact assessments.


2.2.2 Private interventions

In addition to the state interventions, there are many private interventions in rural areas.

  • A lot of these interventions are in the form of charity or assistance and are the work of solidarity bodies, associations, humanitarian organisations, churches, etc.;

  • others are of a mutualist nature, making them similar to state interventions. The mutual farm insurance systems which many farmers in France belong to guarantee them a whole range of social services;

  • yet others, particularly in Italy, are initiated by social cooperatives and come from the desire to entrust the private sector with services until then provided by the local authorities;

  • lastly, here and there networks of solidarity and mutual assistance are appearing to give the unemployed and the excluded access to goods and services that they would otherwise not have.

These initiatives are targeted at social groups and are an answer to clearly defined problems, although usually they are not interconnected. However, there are exceptions:

  • the Italian social cooperatives have developed a systemic approach, adhering to a movement generating reflection, methods and the capacity to negotiate;

  • the “systèmes d’échanges locaux”/”local trade systems” (SEL) which originated in Canada have also gradually elaborated a transferable approach. Today in France, for example, over 270 groups have been set up locally and each has between 10 000 and 15 000 members, 40% to 60% of whom are disadvantaged people living on income support. Based on bartering, these SEL groups are not aimed at inclusion through employment or through the dominant systems of trade but seek to organise reciprocal trade through the management of social links while asserting that there is no possible substitution for social protection systems and paid work, the only guarantees of national solidarity [21].

These systems or others exist in the “cracks” in state social policies, and in some cases pick up where these policies left off. Most receive public grants, usually on a sporadic basis, and operate on the principle of voluntary work.

In many cases, these systems have received support from the LEADER groups which have helped to organise new training programmes, to improve the quality, to develop or expand certain interventions. In Ireland [22], several LEADER groups have intervened in this way:

  • in the Barrow-Nore-Suir area, investment aid for equipment was granted to the Clogh Family Resource Centre so that it could enlarge the activities organised for disabled children and adults;

  • in the Ballyhoura area, the Rural Community Care Network received assistance to develop a pilot programme to create services for the elderly, to organise the distribution of hot meals to people in need, to provide home maintenance services for the elderly and the disabled and to explore the possibility of creating jobs in the social economy sector;

  • in Donegal, an audit of local needs convinced the LEADER group to lend a hand with a feasibility study for a multipurpose centre to help the unemployed, the elderly, women, children in difficulty and social groups without access to training and educational material;

  • in Leitrim/North Roscommon, the LEADER group part-financed the training of 30 unemployed women so that they could work in a cooperative offering a range of services such as social welfare, family management and childcare.


[20] Amouroux Philippe, Fraisse Laurent
(coordonatuers): Politiques publiques et citoyenneté
face aux nouvelles formes d'exclusion, débats sur la
loi cadre contre l'exclusion en France.
Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de
l'Homme. Série Dossiers pour un débat, n° 65, pp. 18-19

[21] “Un peu de SEL dans le tissu social”,
Alternatives économiques, mars 1998, n°157; see also:

[22] Department of Agriculture and Food, Impact
on Social Exclusion, LEADER II. Description of samples
supported by approved LEADER groups which impact on
issues relating to social inclusion, Dublin, August 1998.

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