It’s often difficult to make sense of rapidly evolving events and equally tempting to generalize about the global zeitgeist out of disparate local phenomena. In spite of this, many commentators (see the World‘s Arab vs UK unrest: spot the difference, and the Washington Post‘s What’s behind Britain’s riots) seem to concur that events as diverse as the Arab spring, the London summer riots, the tent protests in Israel and all the way to unrest in Chile have at least one thing in common – social exclusion as one of the underlying causes (if not the main cause) of violent clashes. Exclusion may have different faces and manifestations but it has a similar outcome – fractured societies and human poverty. All governments are responsible for preventing such outcomes.
It’s difficult to address something vague and indefinable – as social exclusion has been perceived until recently. Not anymore! Quantifying and measuring a challenge is the first step towards addressing it. This was the purpose of the social exclusion measurement methodology proposed and tested by UNDP in its recent Human Development Report focusing on countries Europe and CIS. Apart from quantifying social exclusion in a country, the methodology makes it possible for policy makers to prioritize the areas that contribute the most to exclusion. Addressing those policy hotspots would result in decreasing the risk of exclusion and ultimately – in safer and more resilient societies.
Of course it’s not that simple. Data is often vague; the selection of the indicator can be improved as well the methodology – and we look forward to receiving suggestions on how to improve it. The response is even more challenging – it’s not always clear what exactly can be done to address obvious challenges such as youth unemployment in stagnating economies; and not all measures are politically feasible, such as increasing the taxation for high income groups or on financial transactions. Both powerful lobbies and crowds on the street can be incapable (or unwilling) to reach a compromise. All this makes the list of possible reasons why social inclusion efforts may fail. However at least one item has been checked off the list – now governments can’t say “we can’t address it because we don’t exactly know what it is and what to do.”
*PS. It is great to see that the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Guardian are planning to conduct an empirical study on the London riots. The quoted objective for the study (“we want policy responses to be based on evidence, not on conjecture”) is fully in line with the overall philosophy underpinning our work on social exclusion. In fact, if anyone out there is reading, we’d be happy to help.