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  • Author or Editor: Tania Burchardt x
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This chapter asks whether happiness is a useful way to conceptualise well-being, and whether its promotion is an appropriate goal for social policy. It draws on a review of literature from a number of disciplines. It introduces the ‘economics of happiness’ and describes indicators commonly used to measure subjective well-being (SWB) and their policy implications, suggesting that policy should re-examine some areas or topics that have traditionally been given little attention. It reflects on the evidence and concludes that promoting SWB or happiness as an explicit policy objective would be mistaken. It argues that happiness as a policy goal is probably inadequate if consideration is given to how opportunities or resources should be distributed in society, particularly if the concern is to examine the role of policy in addressing various forms of inequality.

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Establishing the Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) in 1997 as part of the Cabinet Office was an early initiative of the Labour government. The brief of the SEU fell into two parts: neighbourhood renewal (considered in Chapter Six of this volume); and countering the exclusion of marginalised groups (considered in this chapter). Up to early 2004, the groups about whom the SEU has produced reports have been as follows:

  • pupils excluded from school or truanting (published in 1998);

  • rough sleepers (1998);

  • teenage parents (1999);

  • 16- to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) (1999);

  • young runaways (2002);

  • ex-prisoners (2002); and

  • children in care (2004).

Although the rationale for selecting these particular groups is not immediately obvious, some inferences can be drawn from the characteristics that the groups have in common. Five out of the seven are groups of children or young people. A process of exclusion which begins early in life is likely to have long-term consequences for both individuals and for the services which are required to support them. Correspondingly, successful policy interventions for these groups have the potential to reduce significantly social exclusion over a lifetime.

Many of the groups identified are ones whose exclusion is perceived to impose costs on the rest of society; for example, children not in school are associated with petty crime; people sleeping rough may be intimidating or offend the sensibilities of the better off; and teenage parents and their children often need considerable support through social security and social services. This may have contributed to the selection of these groups as targets for the SEU.

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Debates about social exclusion are a relatively recent development in Britain, but the terminology now permeates social policy, both in theory and in practice. Confusion and controversy about its meaning have multiplied as its use has spread, generating in turn an interpretative literature. Empirical applications of the concept are rarer, and those which exist tend to investigate one or more particular facets of exclusion in depth rather than offering an overview. Arguably, these two features – conceptual uncertainty and lack of empirical work – are not unrelated. This chapter examines whether a measure of social exclusion can be developed which has a role in social science over and above the associated concepts of deprivation and poverty. The first section canvasses uses of the term ‘social exclusion’ and the following section considers its relationship to ‘poverty’ and ‘deprivation’. The data source for this present analysis, the British Household Panel Survey, is then introduced and key variables are defined. The fourth section presents a summary of results and the conclusion draws out what can learnt about the usefulness of social exclusion as a concept.

The term ‘social exclusion’ probably originated in France. ‘Les exclus’ (the excluded) were those who fell through the net of social protection – in the 1970s, disabled people, lone parents and the uninsured unemployed (Evans, 1998). Later, the increasing intensity of social problems on peripheral estates in large cities led to a broadening of the definition to include disaffected youth and isolated individuals. The concept has particular resonance in countries which share with France a Republican tradition, in which social cohesion is thought to be essential to maintaining the contract on which society is founded (Silver, 1995). Where solidarity is championed, the existence of groups who feel excluded threatens to undermine the unity of the state.

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Richard Titmuss was Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 1950 until his death in 1973. His publications on welfare and social policy were radical and wide-ranging, spanning fields such as demography, class inequalities in health, social work, and altruism. Titmuss’s work played a critical role in establishing the study of social policy as a scientific discipline; it helped to shape the development of the British Welfare State and influenced thinking about social policy worldwide. Despite its continuing relevance to current social policy issues both in the UK and internationally, much of Titmuss’s work is now out of print.

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This chapter assumes a basic degree of familiarity with the capability approach; it does not try to establish or defend its credentials as compared to other accounts of social justice or equality. It demonstrates the methodological, definitional, and theoretical challenges that emerge from applying the capability approach to a certain policy context. It then analyses the definition of equality that is adopted by the Equalities Review, and includes a section on the justification and specification of a list of central and valuable capabilities. The relationship of process and opportunity freedoms, the limitations of the available tools to detect inequalities, and the reflections on the application of the capability approach are discussed in the final sections of the chapter.

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This chapter argues that the task of uncovering the range of beliefs among policy makers about the purpose of social policy in general, and the welfare state in particular, is important for making social policy work, because without clarity over guiding principles, the debate between different normative positions is obscured, and the risk of inadvertently developing contradictory policies is increased. It begins by considering whether searching for underlying normative principles in social policy makes sense. It argues that even if different conceptions of what is right and good are necessarily traded against each other and against other values and objectives in the messy business of practical politics, it is nevertheless worthwhile to analyse the theories of social justice that contribute to the overall mix of motivations. An example is given that examines the rhetoric and practice of the current government and finds evidence of a lack of coherence in values and conceptions of social justice. The next section offers a framework for analysing the different conceptions that may be in play. Another section argues that social scientists should tease out the implications in practice of adopting different normative positions and they should differentiate between those which help to resolve policy dilemmas and those which simply throw up new ones. Particular attention is given to one conception, the capability approach, which has a number of advantages over the others considered. The concluding section returns to the question of whether this is all idealistic nonsense, irrelevant to the real worlds of welfare and policy making.

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