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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 4:
Consolidating the fight against social exclusion
by including it in an area-based approach?


4.2 Achievements that can be used to
elaborate a territorial inclusion approach


The local experiences of fighting social exclusion have left a certain number of achievements and have shown new ways of thinking to elaborate an area-based approach. The analysis presented in the previous chapter on the basis of a few examples of intervention enable us to draw certain lessons which may be completed or deepened by subsequent studies.

a) The partnership lever

The first lesson concerns the key role of the local partnership. Partnerships are necessary to fight social exclusion. They help establish closer relations between the actors who are prepared to make the effort and also serve to bridge the gap between needs and resources, to involve the beneficiaries in the action, to open prospects of enlargement to other social groups, other forms of intervention.

The local partnership can be a forum for consultation and discussion about the distribution and destination of the funds, which has the advantage of taking better account of the characteristics of the area.

Partnerships are educational and instructive. They help build a system of indicators that take into account the full complexity of the problem. The partnership takes on full meaning in particular when the following are included:

  • the associations which, because of their experience of fighting exclusion, have concrete knowledge of the situations and an understanding of the complexity of the problem;

  • the public services that manage assistance for people in difficulty and can provide more systematised information and design appropriate support measures at the local, regional and national level;

  • the municipal officials who as elected representatives are supposed to work for the well-being of all the municipality’s citizens;

  • and especially the beneficiaries - the fact that the objectives and the methods can be compared from the beneficiaries’ point of view is a “safeguard”. It is a way of calling the interventions into question at all times and therefore ensuring their relevance and quality. This participation by the excluded plays a key role in their return to the mainstream of society. By no longer considering them welfare recipients but instead equal partners helping to define common objectives, the beneficiaries find elements to put their situation in a social, economic, cultural and political context and in so doing manage to rid themselves of guilt.

The actions analysed in chapter III clearly show the importance of carefully thinking about their necessary integration within a partnership working in a more general fashion on local development. Essential questions about the future of the area-based approach arise: how can the social inclusion actions be made an essential part of any intervention strategy? How can the search for economic competitiveness be made compatible with the systematic search for social inclusion/cohesion?

b) Giving the approach time to work

The second lesson is that implementing a local area-based approach takes time. Indeed the main difficulty is to get people to share the values of social cohesion and solidarity, largely overshadowed in modern society by the great emphasis on competitiveness which is omnipresent in the world of education, research and politics.

Therefore the long term is essential for its implementation. Short- term anti-exclusion actions generally leave the traditional social divisions intact and do not consider any radical changes such as introducing a form of representation for those excluded.

The system of guidance and counselling set up by the CILDEA association is the result of twenty years of militancy and community actions. The impetus was given particularly by the work councils of certain large companies in the region of Lyons which at the end of the 1960s began to organise actions of solidarity with the farmers of the region. Proof of the importance of this long militant entrenchment, the attempts to transfer the method of counselling and guidance to other regions in France have so far failed. When the values and practices of solidarity are not already part of the common cultural references, it is in fact very difficult to find experienced farmers who are prepared to do counselling work.

The social cooperatives in Italy also have twenty years of militant history, which explains why they are today a social and political reference in Europe. However, there are times when an event affecting the profound values of an individual or an area radically transforms the individual or area. Some elements (media, political decisions) can also contribute to a faster awareness of the need to change. The introduction of the framework law against social exclusion in France, for example, helped make people aware of the extent of the problem.

c) Establishing the link with regional, national and European policies

There is hardly any doubt that it is first at the local level that a process of social acceptance must begin. It is at this level that the complex reality of the exclusion can be seen and that the necessary work can be done to identify, involve and mobilise all the human resources around common objectives. However, this is only the beginning. It is important that the link be established with other initiatives taken at other levels. By complementing or speeding up local endogenous processes, the regional, national and European initiatives can facilitate social inclusion.

Therefore, the relatively standardised approaches decided by the national or regional governments (public aid for the unemployed, needy families, the disabled, social policies, training, etc.) also have a fundamental role to play. But their impact will to a large extent depend on their coordination with territorial approaches that can serve as relays on the ground.

A certain number of government agencies have understood the need for this coordination.

In Portugal, income support, which was introduced in 1997, is granted by social security centres but in collaboration with other partners - municipalities and associations working locally to fight exclusion. For this, “Local Assistance Boards” have been created in each zone where the centres intervene. The boards help identify the potential beneficiaries and give their opinion about granting or stopping income support for families and about the accompanying measures needed. This gives the measure a lot more impact than would have been the case had it been applied through purely administrative procedures.

However, the local actors need adequate preparation if these new forms of state intervention are to be successful.

A recent audit showed that only three of all the boards set up in Portugal are operating satisfactorily.

Yet, a great part of this preparation involves the adoption of measures encouraging the implementation of local projects.

The Community Initiatives aimed at the fight against the exclusion of certain specific groups have played a major role in this. The European programmes NOW (for women), YOUTHSTART (for young people) and HORIZON (for the disabled) have helped create partnerships to implement projects. The LEADER groups themselves have often taken this kind of initiative for their actions.

The LEADER group of the island of La Palma (Canaries, Spain) has organised its local intervention strategy by coordinating its LEADER II programme with the NOW and HORIZON programmes. This has enabled it to introduce in the island rural revitalisation work a social dimension that is essential for the most disadvantaged families who are able to stay in their homes and actively participate in the community actions.

Some of the national programmes also play a decisive role in the emergence of local approaches to the fight against social exclusion.

The INTEGRAR programme elaborated within the “Community Support Framework” in Portugal encourages a territorial approach to the fight against social exclusion. It has contributed to the setting up around these objectives of a number of local groups and helped launch a whole range of projects throughout the country in rural and urban areas.

Therefore the third lesson that can be drawn from the actions already launched is that an area-based approach must be able to coordinate the interventions devised locally with regional, national and European aid programmes.

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