Respect and Social Inclusion

Social Inclusion of people as they age

What is it? The World Health Organisation says in socially inclusive societies older people are able to make valuable contributions in their communities, neighbourhoods and families if their needs are met with dignity, their differences are respected and their involvement is recognised.  

Global Age Friendly Cities Guide 2007.

Some other names for social inclusion are social participation, social connectedness or community inclusion. These are terms that relate to the importance of the relationships between the individual members of our society and their roles as active participants

Social Participation is a key indicator of the overall ‘health’ and vibrancy of a community. Research has consistently shown that people from lower socio economic communities are less likely to be happy with the area they live in, are less likely to volunteer their time, and generally become less involved in community activities. Poverty remains one of the most fundamental barriers for wider social participation. All Australians are entitled to live a life as full as possible within a vibrant and mutually supportive community.

Australian Government’s social Inclusion Agenda: www.socialinclusion.gov.au

There is information about the WHO Age-Friendly Environments Programme on the website at: 

Conversely Social exclusion is the process of being shut out from the social, economic, political and cultural systems which contribute to the integration of a person into the community (Cappo 2002) http://health.vic.gov.au/agedcare/downloads/countusin_booklet.pdf

For people as they age, some of the barriers to their participation may come from experiencing the biases of others or being discriminated against. This can lead people to the sense not being welcome or accepted. 

Some of the barriers  may be discrimination against people because of differences including : social behaviours; gender; age, cultural and language backgrounds and customs; sexual orientation; employment status; religion; health and mental health conditions; physical impairments; political affiliations and actions; levels of educational attainment and financial resources.

The Cross Government Project To Reduce The Social Isolation Of Older People found that

Social isolation can be described as a low level of interaction with others combined with the experience of loneliness. It is a serious issue for seniors because of the detrimental impact it can have on health and wellbeing. Although the majority of older people are not socially isolated, the number of people at risk of social isolation is expected to increase with the ageing of the population. (Office for Seniors, Dept of Communities, 2009)

Social participation is largely an individual’s choice and may be influenced by the following factors: character traits; living situations; cultural background; area of residence; income; availability of transport; life experience; willingness to seek help; social networks and connections with their community.

Some people who engage in solitary activities like writing, reading, playing musical instruments, hobbies, using the internet or communicating by email in fact do not feel socially isolated. Their interests may be a way of connecting them with the wider community. Others will belong to several social networks and relate to different people using different styles of communication.

Ultimately it is important that people have the choice to participate socially or not so as to meet their needs.

Risk factors and life incidents that may lead to social isolation.

At certain times people’s level of social activity may be reduced by experiences of loss, poor health, being a carer, older age, being male, living alone, low income, rural and remote locations, elder abuse, unstable relationships, disability, hearing difficulties, communication difficulties and transport difficulties.

Other life events may also adversely affect social engagement and participation. These factors may include: retirement, loss of one’s partner or significant friends,  relocating, loss of a job or role, entering poverty or financial crisis, sudden disability, being a victim of crime, loss of driver’s licence or suffering a series of falls.

What to Do Talking with others or contacting appropriate services for information and support earlier rather than later to address the situation is encouraged. Plans can be developed so that strategies for support by friends, neighbours, family or services can be set up.

We can all:

  • Respect others and their rights
  • Acknowledge everyone is important and has a contribution to make if they choose
  • Listen to others and be listened to
  • Talk with neighbours, phone friends, family or services
  • Make opportunities for others to join in and participate if they choose by inviting and welcoming them
  • Organise some low cost activities that are accessible to others
  • Use democratic processes and shared decision making
  • Assist people who need to be accompanied and supported to join in
  • Make choices
  • Volunteer

Associated References

COTA Australia Guiding Policy Principles: www.cotaaustralia.org.au

Age Discrimination see:www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/age-discrimination

COTA Tasmania’s Social Inclusion Report 2011 

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