Economic growth, with all its booms and busts, has occupied a central place in Pakistan’s public policy while social development has been tragically disregarded.

Social policy — whatever of it is available — has failed to bring about any significant improvement in the life of the common citizen.

In addition to policy discontinuity and lack of political will, this failure to bring substantial gains for the masses lies in the very design of the social policy framework. Overlooking interconnections, the existing design addresses socioeconomic problems independently, in bits and pieces — all of which are actually inextricably connected.

It is in this context that a good social policy should be developed, one that encompasses a range of social issues and provides solutions that take into account the overlapping nature of each of them.

The template of social policy, therefore, must provide a unified understanding of the social issues and prescribe intersecting solutions that have a positive effect.

Social exclusion — discrimination, through systematic blockade, of an individual or a group of individuals from participating in the prevailing social system/society — provides such an alternate measure.

Social exclusion goes beyond poverty and inequality — the present foundations of social policy in Pakistan — and builds around a broader framework in which poverty and inequality are but two aspects.

A lynchpin of social policy in the European Union, social exclusion was hardly heard of in the developing world until recently.

It is, however, receiving greater attention now as rising inequalities have forced governments and international financial and developmental institutions to re-shape social policy and research accordingly.

The traditional development paradigm, particularly, is witnessing an impasse and developing countries, in the current economic milieu of receding demand and stagnant growth, find it hard to meet the social needs of a growing, young and very demanding population.

Social policy formation, in this context, must be grounded on a measure that can capture not only the outcome but also the social process. Failure in this may set up the policy to fail.

The difference between social exclusion and poverty is two-fold. First, social exclusion, in contrast to poverty, emphasises the relational aspect of deprivation.

Secondly, poverty is only an outcome while social exclusion is both a condition and process.

This relational and dynamic aspect of social exclusion provides it with a larger explanatory power in understanding the underlying processes that create inequality and poverty — the two top SDGs to be achieved.

Social exclusion, as a development policy yardstick, helps improve the quality of services as well as makes it possible to provide these services more inclusively. Its capacity to disclose the relational aspect of deprivations remains its major strength.

Current complexities in the social and economic environment make it difficult to capture the disadvantaged using a single dimensional measure such as poverty — even if measured through the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

Social exclusion provides that required multidimensionality for studying an array of deprivations in one broader framework.

Another important consideration that gives social exclusion advantage over poverty is the emerging concern of controlling inequality.

South Asia is a region where poverty is said to be have fallen, but inequality is on the rise. As inequality excludes people in a larger scale as compared to poverty incidence, it is possible that a person is not poor economically — being employed with a good pay scale — but feels unhappy and socially excluded because of less leisure time, stress and work load.

‘The excluded’ could be the rich or poor, belonging to a minority or lower income quintiles, young and unemployed, a widow or a person with a disability.

In developing countries with little social protection and health insurance, even the non-poor could be excluded from accessing quality health and education. It is through social exclusion that such processes could be captured, underlined and holistically combated.

Going beyond income-based approaches and MPI, social exclusion provides a better picture of deprivations considering major domains of life, namely (a) material resources; (b) employment; (c) education and skills; (d) health and disability; (e) social and community safety; and (f) personal safety.

This holds true for Pakistan as well. A move from the dollars-a-day MPI — a descendent of the well-known Human Development Index (HDI) — seems, to some extent, a step towards understanding the multidimensional nature of the issue in terms of considering health and education along with income.

But it still remains ignorant of the many other faces of the issue. MPI-based measures may be an improvement in estimating the number and allocating the resources, but the social policy design in the country needs to be guided by a measure which takes into account the socio-politico-economic faces of marginalisation.

Taking social exclusion as the foundation, social policy in the country needs to go beyond income or semi-income based measures of poverty.

Federal and provincial governments must rethink social policy. In this context, policy think-tanks, academia and media have a vital role in bringing the social exclusion debate to the discussion table.

The writer heads the Policy Solutions Lab at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 10th, 2017

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