The idea of inclusion is based on the belief that all people in society are entitled to share in society’s benefits and resources. It means that people who in the past have been placed at the margins of society – people with mental health problems, those with learning disabilities, people living on low incomes and those who are homeless, for instance – should live as part of their communities, benefit from the facilities many of us take for granted and share the services (including health services) that all other people use.

This idea is based on respect for all people and, particularly, respect for diversity. Diversity recognises and celebrates our differences as individuals, but also recognizes the common needs that unite us, including the need for good health and social care services when we need them.

Promoting inclusion is about helping people who have previously been excluded from mainstream society (such as the groups we mention above) to get connected (or reconnected) with the wider community. It requires us to pay attention to all aspects of a person’s life and support him or her to take part in the things that give life purpose.

It might be something relatively simple, like a disabled older person being able to visit a place he loved in his younger years because the council has now built an entrance for disabled people, or supporting someone with mental health problems to understand a local bus timetable and enable her to visit friends. But it can also involve more complex work on issues such as helping people to:

  • reconnect with their families and communities
  • understand the benefits system and recognise what they are entitled to
  • learn about democracy and become engaged in local politics
  • take up volunteering opportunities in areas that interest them
  • take part in work or education opportunities previously denied to them
  • pursue an interest or passion in sport or the arts.

All these things are not only worthwhile in themselves: they also help to support previously excluded people’s inclusion (or re-inclusion) into their communities.

It can take time to support someone though this process. It requires the ability to develop positive trusting relationships and to listen carefully to find out what is most important to the person, using many of the skills we looked at in the Communication section. A wide-ranging assessment that focuses on the person’s abilities, interests and supports will identify his or her preferred lifestyle. It also requires a will at all levels of government and civic society to reach out to excluded people and create conditions that enable them to connect or reconnect: the idea of corporate social responsibility, in which businesses and other social enterprises use their resources and energies to further a good cause – supporting a national or local charity or sponsoring the regeneration of an economically disadvantaged area, for instance – is an example of how wider society can work to re-engage with excluded people.

But of course, all this will only be possible if the person wants to be included. Inclusion in a local community is not to everyone’s taste. Our focus here, though, is not on people who choose to be excluded through preference or principle – rather, it is on those people who have been excluded against their wishes because of who they are, what they are, what illnesses, disabilities or disadvantages they live with or what beliefs they hold.

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