View all news

Researching social exclusion

23 February 2007

How should social exclusion be defined and measured?

The purpose of the research was to review existing data sources on social exclusion and especially ‘deep exclusion’, to summarise existing knowledge, and to identify whether better use could be made of existing data, and where there are knowledge gaps that need to be filled.

The researchers began by providing a composite definition of ‘social exclusion’ and ‘deep exclusion’. However, the difference between ‘social exclusion’ and the ‘deep exclusion’ which Government wish to make the focus of policy is problematic: this is a difference of degree, not of kind.  There is  overwhelming evidence that poverty is a major risk  factor in almost all domains of exclusion that have been explored.

The researchers then constructed a matrix of appropriate domains and topic areas across the life course. The Bristol Social Exclusion Matrix, or B-SEM, covers ten dimensions of social exclusion in the fields of Resources, Participation and Quality of Life.  The dimensions take a broad view of social exclusion, moving away from the usual narrow focus on inclusion through paid work, to include questions of civic participation, social and familial relationships and health and wellbeing.

The Bristol Social Exclusion Matrix, or B-SEM, covers ten dimensions of social exclusion

All the major survey data sets, and Bristol’s own ALSPAC (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children) data set, were assessed against the B-SEM and in terms of their coverage and methodological adequacy. The results of this provide an invaluable research resource for anyone seeking to look at the possibilities of secondary analysis on the dynamics of social exclusion.

The analysis shows that few surveys include a sufficiently wide range of information for a proper consideration of social exclusion. There is a need for purpose-built set of questions that can be added to existing large scale surveys. However, many groups suffering social exclusion are under-researched and not covered by these surveys, especially all parts of the population that live in institutions rather than private households – including people of all ages in residential homes, prisoners, children in care and young offenders’ institutions, asylum seekers in holding institutions.

The research team were also asked to consider the potential of administrative data for the analysis of social exclusion. They recommended that the interrelated questions of ethics, public trust and data quality are kept to the forefront when considering the use of administrative records for purposes other than those for which they were originally generated.

Few surveys include a sufficiently wide range of information for a proper consideration of social exclusion

It is notable that the broad view of exclusion taken in the B-SEM, the emphasis on wellbeing and the emphasis on collecting evidence from children and young people themselves, is consistent in its approach with the recent UN report on children, which shows such high levels of deprivation and unhappiness among Britain’s children.

The research team was led by Professor Ruth Levitas from the Department of Sociology and included Ms Christina Pantazis, Dr Eldin Fahmy, Professor David Gordon, Dr Demi Patsios and Ms Eva Lloyd from the School for Policy Studies. The team  are all members of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and the Bristol Institute for Public Affairs, and are best known for their work on the major survey on poverty, Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain: The Millennium Survey.

The full report can be found on the Cabinet Office website.  An executive summary is also available.

Edit this page