I’m involved in Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process. I help on one of the key lines of enquiry – the one for People. So far I’ve made it to a number of meetings, a summit and we’ve also shown case studies of our work.
The process is led by the Bishop of Birmingham and as I understand it the aim is to understand what we need to change to make Birmingham a fairer city. I want to do just that, which is why I’m involved.
I think we need to be very clear about where we focus when we talk about social inclusion. From my experience there are three groups who sit above, on or below a (slightly grey) line:
- Above it are those that include me. The people I consider privileged. We have jobs, choices, education and in a lot of cases some disposable income to spend or save.
- On this (wide) grey line are a large proportion of the population in Birmingham. They have just enough, are working or learning, have shelter, food and warmth – they are making ends meet, but there is none left over either to spend or save.
- Below the line are the remaining population – they’re struggling. They are are not working or learning, they don’t have a stable home life, in a lot of cases, they don’t have a stable home, they don’t have enough to make ends meet, enough food, warmth or shelter and the system is letting them down.
We work a lot with this third group and I consider them to be the socially excluded and where I think the social inclusion process should focus.
Our experience is that things change for the better for people below this line when:
- We start from where they are: we understand what they are experiencing every day and how debilitating it is to live with an endless round of personal/family knock backs exacerbated by blockages and bureaucracy in the system that is supposed to help.
- We are very practical: It can be absurd how difficult it is to do simple things. In one case I read this week one of our keyworkers helped someone find training in a distant part of town simply by looking up the bus routes. It can be that simple
- We take care not to judge: The people we work with have values. I get tired of hearing that “they” don’t love their kids or don’t want to look after them. I do expect people to take responsibility for their own lives, but we find that happens faster when we listen and help.
Overall breaking down social exclusion at this level is a very pragmatic process. I’d like Birmingham’s Social Inclusion process to be the same. I will, of course, write more on this and what it might mean – but any thoughts?