What Is Social Exclusion, Anyway?

three colourful doors lined up in the side of a building
Three Doors photo by Peter Miller is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Three rental homes, six families apply, three judgements. Who wins? Who loses?

Imagine three sets of people who are asked to describe their housing search:

  • The first set are one person households looking for a one bedroom apartment. One is employed, the other is not.
  • The second set are also one person households looking for a one bedroom apartment. One is a member of a visible minority, the other is not.
  • The third set is looking for a two bedroom apartment. One household consists of a parent with a child, the other an adult with an elderly relative.

Each set has the same basic housing requirement. Would the individual experiences of looking for housing be the same? Of course not.

So what?

In these individual experiences, some will report that doors are open to them, while others will not. But when those experiences are added together with those of many other people, it becomes evident that whether the door is open or closed is not down to random chance. Patterns start to emerge.

The individual experiences give clues to why the door isn’t open. Putting those clues together with experience of other people illustrates why some people have a privileged housing search experience and who those people will be. Some of the whys will be based on individual discretion or whim. Most turn out to be thoroughly embedded in our laws, policies and procedures.

Despite grand statements to the contrary, our systems limit the possibilities of some groups of people. At a societal level, this is called social exclusion.

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom investigated social exclusion in housing and approached the question in two different ways. The first reviewed the results of existing research. In the second case, the researchers interviewed landlords, housing providers and tenant organizations and compiled the responses. The first study demonstrates that specific groups have been excluded from housing opportunities for a long time. The second demonstrates that the excluded groups have seen their opportunities narrowed even more as the cost of housing has gone up.

Returning to the sets of home seekers at the start of the story, it’s possible to see why personal experience could make practices of exclusion invisible to some and all too apparent to others. The two reports linked to this post will leave the reader in no doubt about the extent of exclusionary practices in social housing, which is supposed to be the safety net for anyone should they fall into difficulty.

Both studies are published by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence:  Forms And Mechanisms Of Exclusion In Contemporary Housing Systems: Evidence Review and Forms And Mechanisms Of Exclusion In Contemporary Housing Systems: Scoping Study