Filed under: Social inclusion

London riots photo black and white

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.


  • Christian Ks.

    Thank you for sending the link and, some time ago, your latest report. In fact, I find the topic of social exclusion really interesting. And I think you put it in the right perspective with the riots in London, the Arab spring or some time ago in your lecture about the Roma. I must say, living now some time in Asia, this topic is not so high on the agenda here. However, in Europe the situation is in my opinion much different. From what I read in the newspapers, this issue might be one of the huge challenges the countries face, similar to the ones of demographic change, health care, financial stability, climate change, food security, etc. When I see how helpless nowadays (the German) society is in dealing with young juveniles without future perspectives, it truly worries me and Germany is one of the better off countries. I imagine the situation much worse in Southern European states such as Spain where youth unemployment (under 25) is at around 40%!

    Anyways, thank you for keeping me updated on this topic with interesting reports, etc.

    Best regards,


  • fitsum

    Dear Andray;
    Thanks for initating an intersting discussion. The issue of social exclusion is even more important in developing countries such as Liberia, etc which don’t have a solid social security and protection policies and systems in place. Absence of such systems make it more challenging to quell down when violent reactions emerge as result of teh exclusion. Governements have limited experince, policy framework and even resources in place. Instead they are trying to cool down the reaction in teh woreste case through adminsirative measures and in teh best case through looking for support from external partners. But the reality is such measures are only temporary and can’t solve the root cause of the problem which is exclusion. Why this happen? it is simply becuse of the unwillingness to take a bold step and resolve the issue once for all by narrowing the GAP tackleing the percived fear of the worest outcome.

    But how long can governements postpone the issue while real changes are needed is the matter to be dealt with. While we see a rapid change happening around the world there are still deaf ears in the leadership of some countries which experince observable or wider exclusion in social, economic and politics. This endangers bothe the stability of the governanace system and the security of the socitey at large. Therfore, we need to pick up this issue boldely and discuss it at various levels and send a strong message to the status qou to deal with it.