The concept of social exclusion began in the 1990s and involved a multi-dimensional approach which included a focus on the forces that result in exclusion of groups such as ethnic minorities, the mentally ill and homeless people.
The population of NSW, like all societies, is characterised by internal disparities in social advantage and disadvantage – between individuals, families, households, communities and areas. Some aspects of these inequalities are touched upon in other sections of the Atlas (e.g. health, employment, indigenous population). In this section however, a more comprehensive and detailed picture is presented.
Traditional ways of investigating disadvantage have revolved around the analysis of poverty – specifically the analysis of income, employment and housing. Australian research in this field has a long history, tracing back at least as far as the well known mid-nineteenth century newspaper writings of William Stanley Jevons on social conditions within Sydney. The concept of social exclusion was introduced to disadvantage research in the mid-1970s. First coined in France, the term quickly gained widespread use by social policy analysts around the world, referring to the multiple processes that result in exclusion of groups such as certain ethnic minorities, the mentally ill and homeless people from the resources and rewards of mainstream society.
Recently, the term social inclusion has been adopted in a number of countries, including Australia, shifting the emphasis of governments to making it possible for all people to participate in public life and the community generally. In essence, to be socially included, everyone should be provided with opportunities to:
• obtain secure employment
• have access to a range of social services
• connect with family, friends, workplaces and the local community
• deal with personal crises
• have their voices heard.
To this end, many government departments and non-government organisations are incorporating social inclusion themes and goals into their programmes and policies. In some families disadvantage can be intergenerational and this presents a particular challenge.
Disadvantage in individuals, households and families is often concentrated in discrete locations such as neighbourhoods, housing estates and suburbs. While there has been a significant amount of research and analysis involving the development of social indicators to measure social inclusion and disadvantage, the most widely used approach to spatially presenting social disadvantage in Australia is via the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ calculated Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA). Several SEIFA indexes are produced through multivariate analyses of geographically referenced census data. SEIFA scores are used both as indicators of socio-economic condition in their own right and also as explanatory variables in studies of other human phenomena (e.g. health inequalities, the incidence of crime).
The main map in this section presents the SEIFA “Index of Relative Social Disadvantage” (IRSD) from the 2006 Census and summarises information about the economic and social resources of people and households within areas as one way to portray a picture of the variations across NSW. The IRSD combines 17 socio-economic variables, highlighting areas characterised by low household incomes, manual and low-skill occupations, low levels of educational attainment, higher unemployment, overcrowded households, greater public housing, lower rents, poorer English language skills, higher proportion of Indigenous people and higher proportions of one parent and divorced households.
Quintiles are used to present the distribution of IRSD scores into 5 equal groups. The lowest scoring 20% of areas are given a quintile value of 1, indicating relatively greater disadvantage in general. The second lowest 20% are valued at 2 and so on, up to the highest 20% of areas with a value of 5, indicating a relative lack of disadvantage in general. Such area level analysis reflects the socio-economic circumstances of a geographically defined community rather than that of individuals or families and, furthermore, does not take into consideration environmental or service provision factors.
At least three general clusters of areas fall into the bottom 20% (i.e. quintile 1) representing the most relatively disadvantaged Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) in NSW. The first grouping of areas is evident in an arc of SLAs in the remote north-west and west of the State stretching from Coonamble through Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke and Central Darling and includes the mining city of Broken Hill. These areas are generally characterised by large proportions of Indigenous people and the IRSD scores basically reflect the poor socio-economic indicators associated with this population.
The second cluster is located on the far north and mid north coast of NSW (including Kyogle, Casino, Nambucca and Kempsey) and is indicative of many poorer rural communities and towns in addition to a number of discrete Indigenous communities.
A third, urban, cluster is evident in Sydney’s west and south west (in particular Fairfield, Auburn, Parramatta, Bankstown, Blacktown, Canterbury and Liverpool SLAs), highlighting areas with lower socio-economic characteristics associated with large numbers of public housing tenants, significant Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities, and/or Indigenous people.
It is generally acknowledged that such characteristics (e.g. low income, poor English capability, high unemployment) are closely associated with communities that are often struggling economically, socially and politically – in effect, prime target groups for social inclusion programmes and support.
The IRSD, as explained, combines 17 different census-based variables into a summary composite indicator of social disadvantage. As an adjunct to this multi-dimensional measure, it is also important to consider single variable socio-economic indicators with a view to determining the spatial patterns of specific aspects of social disadvantage. Such more focused analyses can greatly assist agencies working within a social inclusion agenda. For example, the map “16 year olds not in full-time secondary education” presents a more directed insight into locational disadvantage on an important dimension of social inclusion. Overall, SLA secondary school participation rates only correlate moderately with IRSD scores and thus reliance on the SEIFA index as a proxy to target low participation areas for interventionary measures would not be very effective. The four SLAs making up the central Sydney LGA, for instance, all rate in the worst quintile as regards secondary school participation, but none of them would be identified as needing special attention if targeting was based on the general SEIFA IRSD index. Likewise, a number of low secondary school participation rate country SLAs (e.g. Conargo, Murray, Griffith, Walcha) do not fall in the bottom ranks of the IRSD.
It is clear that efforts to reduce disadvantage and allow more people to be socially included create a major challenge for all governments and society in general. Addressing individuals and families with multiple disadvantage requires a concerted commitment and sustained government funding for social services and infrastructure in addition to acceptance by the broader society that any gains made benefit all.
Dr Kevin McCracken, Macquarie University and Mr Frank Siciliano, Macquarie University