“[It is] intrinsic in youth work to challenge oppressive structures” T. de St Croix, 2016.

At the 2019-2020 Oxfordshire Youth Youth Work Conference we explored how and why youth work should be inclusive. To begin with it was necessary to explore what being inclusive really means.

Inclusion is a positive, affirmative word that calls someone to action. To take an inclusive approach one must act to bring about change. Exclusion defines the other as something different and external to the main group. Exclusion is the injustice, inclusion is the positive response.

“In essence, conceptions of social inclusion describe the ways a society’s parts fit together and share values”. Prof. H. Silver, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

There is no definition of what an inclusive society looks like. Indeed different language is used to describe the essence of inclusion in different settings; words like solidarity, cohesion, integration, multi-culturalism.

Inclusion and inclusivity is context driven. We have to understand our context to understand where and why barriers to full inclusion exist and then to know how to break them down. This requires engaging in some form of social analysis and there are tools and techniques to help you do this. Having come to your conclusion the principle of inclusivity compels you act. Understanding the context is not being inclusive; acting to change it is.

Examples of ExclusionExamples of Inclusion

-        No/few jobs

-        Low wages/zero hours contracts

-        High cost of living

-        Exploitation of workers

-        Variety of roles available to suit different skill/education levels

-        Employability schemes

-        Living wage/equal pay schemes

-        Workers rights respected

-        Lack of representation

-        Unrepresentative voting methods

-        Lack of engagement in local issues by those in power

-        All members of society able to take part in the political process

-        Representation of marginalised groups

-        Voices listened to

-        Dominant culture/understanding of culture

-        Rigid social structures e.g. class system.

-        Expectation of conformity

-        Cohesion across communities

-        Celebrations of different cultures shared amongst a community

-        Recognition of positive contributions to society

It is at the local level where these areas intersect most pressingly. Whole communities can experience marginalisation, but it can also be experienced at an even more micro level, areas within a community, certain families and individuals. The reasons for the “exclusion” intersect, for example, a family that have lived for a number of generations in a deprived area, multiple unemployment, dis-engaged from politics at any level, viewed with suspicion at best or outright hostility at worst by others within their own community. How do we take an inclusive approach to them?

Structural barriers to inclusive societies

  • Nationalism: an example of group identity that is static and unchanging that is exclusionary. Group identity is not by definition a bad thing – it can be a place of security, belonging and mutual support – but when it is unable to adapt to changing dynamics, or becomes fixed in a certain manifestation, then it can become exclusive and damaging
  • Welfare state: the principle of the state supporting citizens through financial aid, is not what I am bringing into question. The question is whether by defining which sections of society can access that aid, the welfare state defines an “other”. Receiving state benefits can become a mark of shame, something to be pitied or vilified for. Poverty is systemic. It does not happen in isolation and it is rarely, if ever, caused by negligence on the part of the recipient

Neither of the above examples are intrinsically bad, but both can be used to raise up barriers between people.

Where are the margins in our communities?

Whilst it may be a sad truth that to know how to be inclusive we need to define who is experiencing exclusion it is the case that this is a necessary process to bring about change.

  • We need to look for the faces that we see around us that we do not see represented in positions of power.
  • We need to look for the people that drop under the radar.
  • We need to go to the places in our communities that some won’t go to.
  • We need to ask people to share their experiences.
  • We need to build relationships based on mutual respect and trust.

A place for specialist and integrated services as a response to exclusion.

The principle of inclusion is a call to action. We need to be proactive about ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities have access to opportunities. Inclusion is not passive. In the context of an inclusive society, bearing in mind the previous assertion that inclusion is context driven, it is necessary for some services to be exclusive in order to ensure access to opportunity. It is my assertion that the principle of inclusion is not the same as all people being included in all things all of the time. Exclusion is a justice issue which manifests in the structure of society.

As a fully inclusive society is not the reality of our current society, there is a necessary and valuable place for specialist services that meet the needs of certain groups. It is also the case that group identity is not intrinsically bad, and so services that connect people with others that have a shared lived experience can help to build relationships, decrease social isolation, foster resilience, empower and develop confidence.

Specialist services should exist alongside integrated services across our communities and young people should be able to access the ones that the need when they need them. For those of us that are engaged in open access programming, it is crucial that programmes are accessible to as many as possible and so it is your duty to critically consider how, why, when and where you deliver a programme in order to ensure that it is inclusive.

Youth work breaks down barriers.

A key principle of youth work is equity, diversity and inclusion:

  • It treats young people with respect, valuing each individual and their differences, and promoting the acceptance and understanding of others, whilst challenging oppressive behaviour and ideas
  • It respects and values individual differences by supporting and strengthening young people’s belief in themselves, and their capacity to grow and to change through a supportive group environment

This generation of young people is better informed of their rights, has access to greater amounts of information and ways of communicating than any previous generation. This is a generation who are not afraid to mobilise on a shared cause. For evidence of this one can consider the global success of the School Climate Strikes. This generation knows what is wrong (injustice) and it is the duty of those of us entrusted with their support to nurture in them the potential to overcome barriers.

Good youth work is also good community development work and it is so important that all in our communities are able to benefit.

If you’d like to get involved with conversations like this, why not join as a Member and come to a networking event next year?? For more information Contact Us