Home   Publications   Glossary                
 Home >  Glossary  > Social Inclusion, Social Exclusion and Poverty
Social Inclusion, Social Exclusion and Poverty
Social inclusion, social exclusion and poverty are multidimensional and interrelated concepts.

Social inclusion can be defined as the developmental process towards human well-being through which all people equitably access to resources and services (environmental, social and economic) according to universal rights and citizenship, social justice and income redistribution, participation in decision-making and equal opportunities in key policy areas such as those concerning education, employment, social protection and assistance, health and long-term care, housing and transport.

Social exclusion can be defined as both a state and dynamic process whereby scarcity of mutual understanding, trust, solidarity and harmony among individuals, their plural identities and multiple affiliations creates inequality and affects the quality of life of individuals and the cohesion of society as a whole. Social exclusion concerns the relationships within a given social context (e.g. between individuals, households, groups, communities, institutions and governments) and between different spatial dimensions (e.g. local, regional, national and worldwide).

Poverty can be defined as a condition whereby individuals and communities are affected by severe deprivation of basic human needs, capabilities and rights, expressed for instance by low income and wealth, enforced lack of material goods necessary to live in dignity, environmental decay, lack of (or limited) access to labour markets and quality services (culture, education, housing, health care, training, employment and so on), scarce opportunities for social and civic participation.

These definitions have implications with the strategic framework for sustainable development, according to which: 1) humans are an integrated part of ecosystems; 2) the ecosystems contribute to human well-being with vital functions and services; 3) a pronounced deprivation in well-being (i.e. poverty) is the result of how humans manage the available resources.

Awareness of these implications has progressively risen, as important events of the United Nations (UN) demonstrate.

In 1972, at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, identified the significance of the linkages between poverty and the environment when she declared: “poverty is the worst pollution.”

In 1990, the first annual Human Development Report (HDR) stated that “people are the real wealth of a nation”, a paradigm useful to promote and evaluate social inclusion policies. The 1990 report and those of the subsequent years examined the relationship between development and quality of human life, substantive freedoms and choice opportunities, taking into due consideration that poverty is one of the greatest threats to the environment, and environmental damage reinforces poverty. Being focused on people, the reports have used indexes on health, education and living standards (HDI), gender inequality (GII), multidimensional poverty (MPI) and the inequality-adjusted human development (IHDI).

In 1992, the Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, held in Rio de Janeiro) deeply acknowledged “the essential task of eradicating poverty as a an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world” (Principle 5 of the Rio Declaration). The Conference approved Agenda 21 as a vast and dynamic Programme of Action for Sustainable Development for the 21st century implemented by means of National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSDS) and Local Agenda 21 processes that incorporate social inclusion policies and provide indicators related to different national and sub-national dimensions. Chapter 3 of Agenda 21 is dedicated to combating poverty and affirms that “An effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty, development and environment simultaneously should begin by focusing on resources, production and people and should cover demographic issues, enhanced health care and education, the rights of women, the role of youth and of indigenous people and local communities and a democratic participation process in association with improved governance”.

In 1995, the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) underlined that: “poverty has various manifestations, including lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihoods; hunger and malnutrition; ill health; limited or lack of access to education and other basic services; increased morbidity and mortality from illness; homelessness and inadequate housing; unsafe environments; and social discrimination and exclusion. It is also characterized by a lack of participation in decision-making and in civil, social and cultural life.”

In 2000, the Declaration on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fostered a worldwide commitment to reduce poverty embedded in an approach aimed at strengthening human rights and solidarity, protecting the environment and the vulnerable, promoting democracy and good governance.

In 2001, the UN Economic and Social Council (E/C.12/2001/10) endorsed a multidimensional definition of poverty, which reflects the indivisible and interdependent nature of all human rights, already stated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to this definition, poverty is “a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”.

In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, also referred as Rio + 10) approved the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). This plan reaffirmed an approach that stresses the linkages between poverty reduction, human development, protection of the environment and the wise use of natural resources as overarching objectives of sustainable development.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly approved the guidelines to advance the agenda on MDGs beyond 2015.

In 2012, the Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, also referred as Rio + 20) pinpointed the contribution of green economy to poverty eradication and social development.