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EACEA National Policies Platform


4. Social Inclusion

4.1 General context

Last update: 26 January 2021


On this page
  1. Main challenges to social inclusion
  2. Main concepts


Main challenges to social inclusion

UK-wide challenges

The 2016 State of the Nation Report published by the Social Mobility Commission outlines some of the main challenges to social inclusion in the UK:

  • there is an entrenched correlation between educational success and social class,
  • many areas outside of London and the South East have been 'left behind' in terms of education and employment opportunities,
  • a gap between individuals who own their own home and those who do not is accentuating this wealth and social divide,

Note: the report only covers England, Wales and Scotland; Northern Ireland is outside of the Commission's remit.

The most recent 2018-2019 report assesses the progress that Great Britain has made towards improving social mobility, and highlights that:

  • Inequality is entrenched in Britain, from birth to work. 
  • Being born privileged means you are likely to remain privileged, whilst being born disadvantaged means you may have to overcome barriers to improve you and your children’s social mobility. 
  • Urgent action needs to be taken to help close the privilege gap. 

Welsh challenges .

A 2009 report from the End Child Poverty Network Cymru noted geographical divides in terms of access to public transport, health services and employment opportunities. The challenges of child poverty are much greater for children living in rural areas of Wales. 

Furthermore, a 2015 report, Is Wales Fairer?, produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted the prevailing issues for Wales:

  • Attainment of five or more GCSEs at Grades A*-C remains low for some groups of Gypsy/Roma children, looked-after children, children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), and children who recieve free school meals.
  • Bullying was an issue for pupils: especially pupils with SEN, pupils with disabilities, from religious backgrounds, ethnic minority pupils, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils.
  • Young people’s employment has decreased. 
  • Pay gaps widened for young people, as they were the lowest paid group in 2013.
  • Political under-representation of women, young people, ethnic minorities, LGBT people and religious minorities. 
  • The suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has increased from 2008 to 2013.

The following edition of Is Wales Fairer?, published in 2018, assesses whether the realisation of equality and human rights for people in Wales improved since the 2015 report. The simple answer is ‘not entirely’, with the evidence pointing to five significant findings:

  • Overall increases in employment, a narrowing of educational attainment gaps for some, and an increase in levels of political participation - particularly a huge spike in voter turnout for women.
  • A continuing increase in homelessness, increased poverty rates and the adverse effects of UK-wide social security reforms on the poorest groups have contributed to an overall fall in living standards in Wales.
  • Disabled people are being denied their right to independent living and in many cases are not experiencing the progress seen for other groups, with gaps in educational attainment and employment widening rather than narrowing. 
  • While women have some of the most equal outcomes they have ever had, the prevalence of societal gender norms in education and employment, and experiences of harassment and violence, obstruct this progress. 
  • Some ethnic minority people are experiencing improvements, but hate crime motivated by race is still far too prevalent in Wales. 

However, the 2018-2019 State of the Nation Report highlights the progress made in responding to these challenges in Wales.  Highlights include: 

  • Wales is becoming more socially mobile, with a person’s socio-economic status less determined by their parents’ socio-economic status. 
  • The likelihood of being in a professional job has narrowed over the past four years between those from a working class and a professional background, from 33 percentage points in 2014 to 20 percentage points. 
  • The Welsh Government has succeeded in reducing child poverty in recent years, although there has been a slight increase in the most recent figures


Main concepts

In this chapter, the term 'social inclusion' refers to the process which ensures that people who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion gain the opportunities and resources necessary to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life and to enjoy a standard of living and well-being that is considered normal in the society in which they live. It also ensures they have greater participation in decision making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights. In this context, social inclusion can be considered as a multi-dimensional concept, which combines various factors, including:

  • income and living standards
  • the need for educational and decent work opportunities
  • effective social protection systems
  • housing, access to good-quality health
  • other services as well as active citizenship.

The terms used to describe policies, initiatives and actions relating to social inclusion have changed over time. To illustrate how they evolved into the concepts and definitions used currently, this section provides a brief policy overview.

Social justice and equality of opportunity are central to Welsh Government policy goals. As noted above, its ambitions in those areas focus on reducing poverty rather than increasing mobility. By addressing causes of poverty, the intention is also to avoid consequences such as poorer outcomes in education, health and individual behaviours, and reduced social cohesion.  

The Welsh Government published a revised Child Poverty Strategy in 2015 and reaffirmed its ambition to eradicate child poverty by 2020. The strategy set two new strategic objectives:

  • to use all available levers to create a strong economy and a labour market which supports poverty reduction
  • to better support families through debt and financial advice, and to tackle the disproportionate costs by poor households for goods and services.

It also reiterated the three strategic objectives set out in its 2011 Child Poverty strategy:

  • reducing the number of children in workless households
  • increasing the skills of parents and young people in low-income households
  • reducing the inequalities that exist in the education, health and economic outcomes of children and families living in poverty.

The Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty Action Plan 2012-2016 is the main mechanism for pursuing these objectives; it is reviewed annually. The Government has not published a new separate Poverty Strategy or Action Plan; tackling poverty and promoting equality is now under the remit of the National Strategy, Prosperity for All (see ‘Scope and contents’ under the article on ‘Strategy for the social inclusion of young people’), and other related Programmes and Action Plans (that advance the goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015).


UK context

Devolution has given the Welsh Assembly legislative control of most of the policy areas covered by this chapter (see the article entitled 'Political and Economic Situation' in the Eurydice's Network education system description for Wales). However, the ambitions set out in the Westminster government's policies relating to social inclusion apply across the United Kingdom. The definitions and concepts used to describe them are in the equivalent England article.