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Post  Admin on Wed 1 Oct 2008 - 15:07

One of the hallmarks of a society is how it treats those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or less well off. While there will always be differences between people we, as a society, generally consider there to be certain minimum standards of living that no one should fall below. So what should these standards be and, more importantly, how do we ensure that no one falls below them?

It is quite deliberate that the title of this forum uses the word "inclusion" rather than the more usual "exclusion". Partly this is an attempt to look at the bigger picture, since "social exclusion" has become a very specific term relating to poverty, which is of course important but just one factor. Human rights in all their forms and legislation to protect them are important too, since it is all too often those who are in minorities who end up being victims of discrimination and as a result are more likely to be in poverty.

Our discussions in this forum will probably centre around two things. The first is legislation. In most western societies we have seen legislation enacted against many forms of discrimination. On one hand it is hard to imagine that we would want to reverse any of this, but on the other hand we see sections of the press continually telling us that legislation on human rights has got out of all proportion. So the questions to ask are whether the current legislative framework is effective, and whether we would want to strengthen it, or to extend it to other fields. If so, what should these fields be? As well as that, no one can pass a law that affects what people think, only what they do or do not do. So how (if at all) should we seek to influence how people think about issues like race or sexual orientation, and to what extent should we accommodate those with strongly held views about morality which might differ from those of the majority?

But the second factor is that, whether as a result of discrimination or not, many people live below the poverty threshold, usually defined as 60% of median income. Redressing this requires looking at two things. In the long term it will mean looking at the way children grow up, particularly with regard to education, training, health and housing. Of course each of these can be discussed in other forums on this site, but there is also a place for discussing the overall measures necessary to achieve equality of opportunity. At the very least an independent Wales should aim for a coherent long term strategy to help ensure that the next generation does not suffer the same inequalities as the current one.

But in the shorter term we need to consider the whole system of supporting those who are less well off. Unemployment and underemployment are indeed problems that need to be dealt with, but social exclusion is very far for being limited to those that have no family member working. At present we have a complicated and interlinked system of universal and means tested benefits, tax credits and the like. How should things change in an independent Wales, and what would be the cost of doing so? Do we want to see Wales move more towards a Scandinavian model of social inclusion, even if that means higher taxation? Or are there other countries that provide better examples for us to learn from?


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