Policies and practices for inclusion of disadvantaged groups

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Practices and policies for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups aim to provide all citizens with equal access into urban life and ensure their right to the city.

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction to approach

Practices and policies for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups address existing patterns of exclusion and inequalities which limits well-being and economics possibilities of certain groups. It aims at fostering the inclusion of disadvantaged groups such as youth, elderly, migrants and diverse families (e.g. same-sex couples or single mothers).

Shapes, sizes and applications

Jobs and professional training/counselling (for vulnerable groups) (CITISPYCE 2012-2015): The European financial crisis and the following austerity measures led to high levels of unemployment. The group that suffers the most for unemployment has undoubtedly been the youth. Governments have developed policies to reduce unemployment by moving young people into low skilled, temporary and poorly paid jobs. On the contrary, this approach promotes moving away from measuring “employment” success from the quantity of people getting a job to the quality and pay of the job. Policies to promote youth employment should be integrated with education and professional training which promote the shift from “quantity” to “quality”.

Youth Policy as autonomous field (SocIEtY 2013-2015): The young people suffer from lack of capital and resources which reproduce exclusion of this group. Youth policy as autonomous field means involving different stakeholders in the process of policy-making, particular attention should be given to including the youth so to make their experiences, ideas, aspirations and voices heard in these processes.

Migrant inclusion through employment (Migrants and Minorities in European Cities 1996-1998): Migrants and other ethnical minorities are amongst the most vulnerable groups which suffer social exclusion. In particular, in today’s society social exclusion is strictly connected to employment. Therefore, policies interventions to provide more job opportunities to migrants becomes an approach to enhance their integration into society. Another specific example of migrant integration practice, is the re-start program (REFUGEE COMPANY ongoing). The Refugee Company (The Netherlands) represents one initiative funded from partners of different backgrounds (companies, foundations, municipalities) which aims at providing concrete solutions to help refugees to successfully integrate into society. The programme consists in proving free language courses and support in finding a suitable job with the final aim of offering economic independency to refugees.

Equity oriented structural policies (social/economic policies) to reduce health inequities (SOPHIE 2011- 2015): Research has shown that health inequities can be caused by socioeconomic, gender and immigration factors. Social protection, in particular, has shown to have a positive impact on people’s health. In the urban setting, both inclusive urban planning and housing policies can positively influence physical and mental health. Therefore, the development of policies aimed at reducing inequalities and exclusions in society can directly reduce health inequities and improve a population’s overall health.

Inclusive citizenship (GRAGE 2014-2018): Elderly represent a fast growing part of the population. Therefore, if urban planning and policies will fail to adapt to these changes, elderly as a societal group will be excluded. Inclusive citizenship means ensuring the elderly their right to the city: developing infrastructures and services which allow them to live in the city as well as including them in the governance of the urban spaces. Another project which investigates the inclusion of elderly in the urban space is GOAL (Transport for elderly people). [to add link to pathways & scenario cluster which talks about this]

Evidence-based policy for societal development of families (FAMILIESANDSOCIETY 2013-2017): This approach consists in developing policies which recognize the diversity of families. For instance, children of less educated mothers and from disadvantaged backgrounds have proven to benefit more from childcare services than from home-based care. Starting from this evidence, policies should be developed to offer free childcare to children of mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Policies based on the needs of the majority of families will not necessarily benefit everyone, but it might even reproduce exclusions of minorities.

Sustainable and solidarity economy (SUSY): There are thousands of local projects in Europe which are based on a model of sustainable and solidarity economy which is defined as follows "The social and solidarity economy is a movement that aims to change the current social and economic system. Solidarity economic principles serve as the new basis – principles based on solidary exchange that connects individual needs with those of the community." [1]. Although these projects are often implemented by citizens without direct support from established institutions, they provide effective channels to bring people together and reduce inequalities.

Cities integrated solutions via networking (URBACT): Networks of cities and town represents one way for policy-makers to be informed and learned about good practices and successful cases which have contributed to the reduction of exclusion and inequalities. This is not a specific approach per se, but rather indicates the different ways in which cities can share experience.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

The policies and practices that aim at disadvantages group share the same understanding that cities are where inequalities are most visible. However, the approaches call for the development of policies which are not limited to citizens living in urban areas, but it expands to semi-rural and rural areas too. The approaches aim at the development of inclusive policies which tackle both causes and symptoms of inequalities and strive for social justice. Environmental sustainability, on the other hand, is not the focus of these policies. Yet, some socio-economic policies go hand in hand with environmental sustainability. For instance policies that address mobility poverty of elderly in cities advocate for more cycling, biking and public transportation, which consume drastically less Co2 than private cars. Similarly, “equity oriented structural policies (social/economic policies) to reduce health inequities” offer an alternative method of urban planning, with more green spaces and reduction of traffic. This shows that policies which aim at fostering inclusion of disadvantaged groups can largely improve cities’ sustainability performances.

Policies for inclusion might reproduce patterns of exclusion or be unsuccessful. This is the case when they are directed only at improving the conditions of who suffers exclusion. Inclusive policies should equally be directed to adapt the non-excluded group to a process of integration. The inclusion of disabled children in school, for instance, should not merely focus on how to improve their conditions, but should equally involve teachers, parents and children of the school in adapting and understanding the needs of disabled people.

Narrative of change

The root cause that this cluster addresses is inequality. Not only disadvantaged groups are heterogeneous (i.e. elderly, youth, immigrants…), but heterogeneous are also the reasons why these groups are categorized as disadvantaged. Disadvantaged groups might suffer from different types of inequality, such as income, education, job opportunities, health benefits, and access to transportation, etc. The underlying premise of specific policies is that they can address both the causes and symptoms of inequalities leading to increased levels of inclusion. In addition, knowledge sharing and networking (e.g. see projects such as SUSY; URBANACT) can help policy developers, civil society and citizens to be inspired by successful cases. Finally, civil society projects such as voluntary work for migrant integration bypass formal policy development and aim at creating spaces (e.g. free language course) which reduce inequalities.

Transformative potential

The examples recognize that inappropriate policies are one of the factors that cause inequalities and exclusions. In other words, the cluster does not policy making as the problem per se, but rather it sees the development of inappropriate policies as the problem. In this sense, the transformative potential of the cluster does not lie in challenging policies as an institution, but in challenging the way in which policies are developed and implemented. According to most approaches in this cluster, therefore, increasing inclusion can potentially be achieved by innovative policies in terms of methods and contents. However, some approaches almost entirely bypass policy making and come up with their own solutions and initiatives to enhance inclusion. Some of them (e.g. sustainable and solidarity economy) challenge the main current economic system of profit making and create their own networks where disadvantaged groups can be better integrated.

Illustration of approach

An example of a policy for inclusion of disadvantaged groups is equity oriented structural policies (social/economic policies) to reduce health inequities (inspired by [SOPHIE project 2013-2015).

Research within the EU funded project SOPHIE was able to link health inequities to a number of different factors. Particularly relevant to the UrbanA project are two facts: (1) urban planning impacts health and (2) housing policies can reduce health inequalities.

In Barcelona, for instance, residents in a neighborhood which underwent a renewal process (i.e. more green areas, improved service and infrastructures) found that their well-being and health had overall improved since the renovations. Similarly, neighborhoods’ renewal plans, such as the Dutch District Approach, have proven to improve health among the adult population as they promote outdoor walking. Policies which support urban regeneration initiatives (if implemented in such a way not to reproduce socio-economic exclusion) have shown to reduce health inequities in deprived and poor neighborhoods. Access to housing and housing conditions strongly affects physical and mental well-being. SOPHIE found that fuel poverty, which is the difficulty to keep a house temperature warm enough because of economic constraints, plays a big role on people’s health. At the same time, in Spain the rising of rents, mortages debt and evictions following the economic crisis in 2007 have caused people severe mental distress, even resulting in a dramatic increase in suicide rates[2].

Urban planning and access to housing are only two of the many aspects which result in health inequities. This shows that certain urban spatial arrangements can results in social injustices not only in terms of economic opportunities but also more directly in terms of health. Environmental sustainability might not be the focus of health-equity oriented policies, but the implementation of these policies show that more environmentally sustainable interventions (e.g. more green walkable area, traffic reduction, sound insulation) has the potential to have a positive impact on health equities, and as result on social justice.