Excluded Localities

The children in the dialogue are confronted with a very sensitive issue: a relative of Dan’s lives in a building where all the inhabitants have received notice of eviction: some of them for having defaulted on their rent payments, but some of them just because the decision has been made to evict them. The children in the dialogue explore the complex web of reasons for, and consequences of, this situation. This emotionally-charged dialogue suggests the complexity of the theme, as well as the social stigma attached to exclusion and poverty.

  • What is…?

Social exclusion can be defined (while not forgetting the various ways in which the term can be used) as the process whereby individuals and entire groups of people are denied access to the resources that are essential for participating in the social, economic, and political activities of society as a whole. The process of social exclusion is primarily engendered by poverty and low income, but there are other contributing factors, such as discrimination, low education, and poor living conditions. Socially excluded people are cut off from institutions and services, social networks, and educational opportunities.

Ghettos (poor enclaves): The term ‘ghetto’ refers to a spatially-defined part of an urban unit where there is a concentration of people of the same ethnicity, race, social status, or cultural and religious affiliation. Originally it was applied to the segregated Jewish neighbourhoods in European cities. The term ‘ghetto’ is closely tied to the concept of segregation, which is generally understood to mean the process whereby groups of people who are in some way “different” are relegated to spatially-confined enclaves, while simultaneously they are usually prevented from participating with the rest of the population in other levels of social interaction (often only specifically-defined forms of economic interaction are available, while the remaining spheres of social life proceed separately). In the case of institutionalised segregation we speak of apartheid. But the inhabitants of a ghetto need not necessarily be assembled on the basis of ethnicity or some cultural category, but can also arise on the basis of low socio-economic status (which can also arise as a secondary result of segregation: so-called ethnicised poverty). Sociopathological phenomena accrue in poor enclaves.

The culture of poverty is a concept of the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis, the basis of which is the claim that people living in an environment of poverty on the margins of a market society can under certain circumstances create their own specific sub-culture, which is passed on from generation to generation. Regardless of where it occurs, this sub-culture possesses the following features (among others):
— unemployment and low incomes,
— the absence of formal organisations beyond the limits of the family,
— a distrust in the organisation of majority society,
— the widespread occurrence of lone-parent families and couples living in unofficial unions,
— feelings of deprivation and resignation,
— a tolerance for sociopathological behaviour,
— an orientation towards immediate gratification, and so on.

Author’s note: these definitions are drawn from the website: http://www.integracniprogramy.cz

  • Topic

The theme of the dialogue is social exclusion. In this process, certain inhabitants or individuals are excluded as a group and relegated to the margins of society, where they are cut off from the resources that society has created to regulate and advance the societal and social lives of its members. Those who inhabit the margins of a society thus become ‘second-class’ citizens. This phenomenon holds specific consequences for family life and the life of individuals who live in social exclusion, and also for the rest of society.
‘Exclusion’ and ‘segregation are the two words that describe this process. It is a process in which the segregated, dislodged group itself has no means of influencing the course of their relegation to the margins of society by the majority. The process is an involuntary one. The phenomenon of separation, where a group of inhabitants separates itself from the majority, is somewhat different; in this case the objective is, for instance, to maintain cultural traditions, economic advantage, or even the internal social cohesion of the community. In this kind of separated community there is more of an opportunity for mutual assistance and interaction between members of the community. This process is voluntary and, unless a process of segregation then ensues, there is nothing that essentially prevents members of the separated community from having access to the services distributed by society.
‘Exclusion’ and ‘poverty’ are terms often linked together, and they even tend to be used interchangeably. Poverty as a phenomenon has been a part of life in different societies throughout the ages. The concept of poverty has changed throughout history, but it has always been tied to economic and social development. Poverty has also been perceived as a subjective concept, and a major role is played by the subjective assessment of each individual. The material advancement of modern society and the industrial revolution ushered in a change in the way poverty was understood and perceived in society. In the eyes of the wealthier strata, poverty is always inconsistent with the economic ‘advancement’ of society as a whole. To protect itself from poverty, the more ‘fortunate’ segment of society thus built a system of support for the poor and at the same time defined the usefulness of this support. A specific discourse of poverty gradually emerged, as in the literature of pauperism in the 19th century. According to this discourse, poverty was the result of indolence, gambling, alcohol, dancing, and the decline of religious sentiment.

Today we make a distinction between absolute poverty and the subjective component of poverty. Absolute poverty is defined as the shortage of resources to maintain the physical and social life of an individual. Relative poverty is a concept implying a relationship to the general living standards of society (the EU, for example, defines relative poverty as 50% of the average income).
These two concepts do not entirely overlap. Material poverty does not automatically mean a life in social exclusion.
Social exclusion is a term that first surfaced in France in the 1970s and it referred to the group of citizens who slip out of the social system. It later became a term to refer to a much wider reality of life on the lowest rung of the social ladder, and it became an established term in EU documents.

This is a phenomenon which occurs in modern industrialised and urban societies on every continent. Ghettos have grown up on the outskirts of big cities in France, North America, and South America and Asia. One of the ways in which the internal mechanisms of life in the ghetto can be described is with the concept of the culture of poverty. With this concept it is possible to describe the situation in ghettos today as a universal phenomenon – tied not to an ethnic characteristic, but to life in a certain social situation.

What is social exclusion?
The situation of people living in social exclusion is influenced by external factors that they have no control over. These factors include: the state and character of the labour market, the social and housing policies of the state and the municipality, the practices of local authorities in relation to social policy, and especially discrimination or stigmatisation on the part of the majority based on race, ethnicity, nationality, social status, and so on. In this regard, the attitude of the majority, local authorities, and state institutions is always of fundamental significance for changing the situation in socially excluded localities. Responsibility for external causes thus lies with society as a whole.

Clearly, then, this phenomenon does not affect mainly ‘the poor’, but is also a threat, for example, to the elderly, mothers on maternity leave, members of minorities, people released from prison, and others.
Other significant components of exclusion are the external causes of social exclusion. These are phenomena that have their foundation in the behaviour of the individual people living in the situation of exclusion. This behaviour often serves to exacerbate exclusion or the cause of exclusion. There is a direct connection between internal and external causes, and they have a reciprocal influence on each other.
Internal causes include in particular the loss of work habits, a long-term inability to manage money, a tendency to seek the rapid gratification of momentary needs stemming from long-term frustrations, and little motivation to solve the problems affecting one’s own life.
The internal causes are thus often connected with the atypical personal disposition of people in a situation of social exclusion. Change requires motivations from without and an alteration of the context these people live in. This is a long and complicated process which is connected to the social rehabilitation of individuals and the improvement of family life.

What course does the process of social exclusion take?
The process whereby an individual, family, or group of inhabitants end up on the margins of society is manifested in these areas: spatial exclusion, economic, cultural, and social exclusion itself, and symbolic exclusion.

Spatial exclusion is the most visible feature in the public space. It relates to where people reside: urban neighbourhoods, streets, or even individual buildings, which are typically run down; where the housing is of low quality and physically cut off from access to regular services, like shops, police stations, authorities, schools, and so on. They are often ‘horror’ houses, designated by the authorities as localities for rent defaulters and socially vulnerable groups and so on. Generally these locations turn into ‘bad addresses’. This designation has an obvious stigmatising effect on the inhabitants. At the same time, housing in these localities is expensive. These costs stem from the greater consumption of energy in badly insulated buildings, spatial inaccessibility, and high ‘market’ rents.

Economic exclusion is linked to the exclusion of ghetto inhabitants from the labour market. This makes them dependent on social benefits and illegal work. This situation is created from without, by discrimination in the labour market and the lack of job opportunities, and also from within, through debt and the loss of work habits.

Cultural exclusion refers to obstructed access to education, knowledge, and skills recognised and necessary for life in society. In practice children from ‘problem Roma families’ are placed in ‘practical’ schools intended for children with low-level mental disabilities. These children then complete a programme of education that provides them with none of the basic skills for successfully joining the labour market. In these schools only a limited study curriculum is applied, which deepens the problem of low education for the next generation. In most cases the parents of these children themselves have low education and are often also functionally illiterate. This kind of illiteracy means the inability to work with numbers (simple arithmetic and so on), to look for and use information, and to understand texts. Functional literacy is also inherently linked to the ability to communicate in a foreign language. For these children and their parents, education thus becomes a less important or inaccessible ‘accessory’ for adulthood, and also represents an obstacle to joining the structures of society and to functioning in these structures (especially the labour market).

It is also possible to speak of social exclusion in the sense of constricted social contacts. People living in ghettos have a much smaller number of contacts beyond the limits of a narrowly-defined circle of neighbours, most often with officials, teachers, and so on. This leaves them cut off from a fundamental component of success in society – social capital. The social ‘horizons’ of these people are limited to the type of social patterns that are defined and acquired from their contacts with neighbours in similar situations in life. They do not come into contact with representatives of the majority, except for officials and teachers. Another, and often the most common, source of information on the majority tends to be the ‘distorted’ image on the television screen.

Finally, there is also symbolic exclusion, which involves relationships with the majority society and the characteristics that this society ascribes to people living in ghettos. The people are usually labelled as rent defaulters, slackers, and misfits. The individual ascribed these characteristics are then treated according to them, despite the fact that the description is false and based solely on skin colour. We then talk of stigmatisation occurring on the basis of social status, ethnicity, and skin colour.

An important element here is adaptation to the conditions of social exclusion on the part of those who are living in this situation. A typical aspect of the life strategies applied in their everyday lives is their adaptation to the opportunities life in the ghetto has to offer. This is above all a rational behaviour in the ghetto environment. The rules that apply in this environment are somewhat different from those in the rest of society. The ghetto forms a vicious cycle, in which the family occupies a very different role as the basic component of solidarity and as a protective ‘network’ for family members. The ineffective behaviour that, coupled with discrimination, in the public space cause and intensifies the poverty of individual and families, derives externally from these networks.

Simply put, within the individual family network the resources obtained by individual members are shared. Every action that would reap a greater benefit for an individual is thus reduced. Education does not pay because the increased income derived from higher education will also be used by the remaining members of the ‘network’. This brings us to the seemingly illogical omission of education as a strategy to elevate one’s life or the life of one’s children. The situation with work and other areas operates similarly. The family becomes a trap that functions not only as a resource in a situation of threat, but also as the cause of the lesser incentive to solve problems individually. Preference is given to activities that bring quick gain and that can be immediately put to use for the needs of the family. Together with discrimination, which in the public space minimises opportunities for work, the circle of poverty closes in on the people trapped in it. Poverty combined with the limited opportunities for assertion of one’s legal rights in the localities (the police are rarely present in these neighbourhoods, instead leaving conflicts to be solved within the framework of the community meaning that a strong family is what guarantees protection; the situation is similar in cases of discrimination, which officials almost never prosecute) lead to the emergence of criminal behaviour as a source of subsistence and an accepted way of life. At this point the ghetto becomes a source of major problems for other members of society. The economic burden combined with other social problems (criminality, drugs, hygiene, health risks, and so on) make this problem on the periphery a serious issue for society as a whole.

How do ghettos form?
Czech ghettos are a product of roughly the last fifteen years. The natural process whereby certain social groups, families, and individuals move together to locations with manageable housing costs was accompanied by another, deliberate process, whereby the socially vulnerable and the Roma were ejected from lucrative flats in city centres and given flats in localities with a higher concentration of Roma and socially vulnerable inhabitants. The flats freed up in this process were often privatised or sold to large developers. Finally, ghettos also emerge as a result of the ejection of so-called rent defaulters by municipalities and their relocation to ‘bare’ flats.

The Roma and the socially vulnerable became the primary candidates for the label of rent defaulters since the Velvet Revolution (1989). In the previous regime these people had mainly worked in less qualified jobs as auxiliary manpower in industry. In the new conditions they were the first to be fired and end up unemployed. The social system was still just evolving and these people fell into a spiral of debt, welfare dependence, and discrimination. Further development replicated the situation in other states. The frustrations of people suffering from these problems grew, as did criminality and dependence on benefits and the grey economy.

These mechanisms associated with housing also became a means by which private real estate owners were able to get rid of unwanted tenants. Socially vulnerable families in most cases accepted offers to move out of their category 4 flat (with a long-term lease) and in exchange move into a higher category replacement flat (with a fixed-term lease, e.g., for one year) along with financial compensation in the amount of several months’ wages. These families were thus moved hundreds of kilometres away into communities where real estate companies bought cheap forms of housing like municipal flats. This, for example, is how the ghettos formed at Janov in Lítvínov, many whose resident families used to live, for example, in Prague and Central Bohemia.

The flats obtained by these means are quickly sold and reconstructed. The ejected families were cut off from all their ties and found themselves many kilometres from where they used to call home. In municipalities where these families are found there is an accumulation of social problems, and the social situation in the ghettos usually deteriorates further. Finally, conflict between ghetto inhabitants and the people living in the surrounding area escalates.

The places where ghettos gradually formed in the Czech Republic are those municipalities which in the past, typically had a large share of heavy industry and a demand for cheap labour. These included the country’s large industrial centres: northern Moravia – the Ostrava region, northern Bohemia – Ústí nad Labem, Litvínov, Most, Central Bohemia, Kladno, and so on. The first socially-excluded people also emerged from the ranks of agricultural labours and rural inhabitants. Those from the former Sudeten regions moved to cities in the 1990s in search of work (e.g. Kladno, Liberec, Pilsen, Prague, etc.).

What is life like in the ghetto?
There are several typical features of life in the ghetto which influence all the activities of families and individuals. Life in the ghetto is accompanied by ubiquitous dependence on the ‘grey zone’ – encompassing both criminal activity and unofficial economic activity. The individual parts of this zone form a cohesive unit which encompasses the inhabitants of the ghetto. Families are dependent on benefits, which then end up in the pockets of money-lenders leasing flats to these families for high rents; and also in the pockets of drug dealers and the operators of gaming houses. In recent years this group has grown to include middlemen with links to lenders of ‘quick and advantageous loans’. When the lethargy of ghetto inhabitants is added to this equation, these groups create conditions that eat away at any individual motivation to solve problems. Combined with discrimination in the labour market and housing, the situation becomes almost unsolvable. The situation of families declines even further, and children adopt behaviour patterns that ensure their survival in the ghetto environment, namely: life on benefits, working illegally, salvaging scrap, and often occasional minor theft.
All this occurs against the backdrop of run-down buildings, neglected public roads, and poor hygienic conditions.

Who lives in the ghettos?
In the Czech Republic the problem of ghettos is observed primarily as an ethnic problem. In the perception of the majority it is a Roma issue. In the Czech Republic, at least 80,000 people are living in localities that can be described as socially excluded. They contain inhabitants that can be identified not just on the basis of skin colour, like the Roma, but also, for instance, former convicts, migrants, socially vulnerable families, lone-parent families headed by mothers, and representatives of other minorities.

Social exclusion can be viewed as a problem of the Roma in terms of how it relates to discrimination. Skin colour is a common reason why they are denied employment by employers, denied tenancy, required to pay higher rents or bail, have to work illegally, and so on.

Discrimination and stigmatisation are key components in the development of social exclusion. However, another component is the economy that forms around these localities. These activities yield revenue for the company coffers and budgets of many organisations. Non-payment of employer contribution payments, extravagant rents in buildings owned in the localities and at lodging houses, the withholding of benefits over the long term: these activities are not just a burden to socially excluded people, but are an obstacle to the elimination of ghettoes and a burden on the social system as a whole. These are determinants that ghetto inhabitants cannot eliminate themselves.

Where is the way out of the ghetto?
The way out of the ghetto requires complex and systemic changes in many areas. It involves access to social housing, dissolution of ghettos and dispersal of their inhabitants among the majority, elimination of obstacles to employment (illegal work, etc.), design of social benefits which create more of an incentive to work, individualised social work with individuals and families, for example through field social work, and increased the opportunities in the education system for children from ghettos. The state should also systematically penalise manifestations of discrimination and provide families in ghettos with greater protection. All these activities are long term and expensive. They require a will on the part of society and politicians. At present politicians, like ghetto inhabitants, favour short-term goals, limited to the duration of a term in office.

Final note
A very interesting phenomenon is the tendency on the part of the majority, outside the ghetto, to evaluate the phenomenon of social exclusion in moral terms. This is a phenomenon that in discussions of poverty, the position of the poor, and the causes of poverty can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. These judgements usually are usually at odds with social scientific findings and the reality of life in the ghettos. These judgements find fertile ground in the prejudices and negative connotations of poverty in contemporary culture. Reducing the issue of poverty to it being an enemy of social development, to the level of prejudices, and to the focus on economic growth, together with the rise of affluence, results in the exclusion of everyone who does not want to or cannot keep up with this trend. It is thus also important to think about what this phenomenon means for today, and about its meaning for the victims of social exclusion.

  • Stories and examples

Story 1
Robert is 25 and he lives with his partner in his parents’ home in a neighbourhood in Prague. Recently he was trying to decide where to go to work. Because it is not hard to find work in Prague, he was soon able to choose between offers, for the most part from serious employers. He then learned that his unpaid health insurance, combined with the fines stemming from non-payment, had turned into a debt of almost a hundred thousand crowns, and so his wages would have to be garnished.
Out of his wages from working as a building security guard in a comfortable office, all that he would be left with is 5,300 CZK - would be just 2,000 CZK more than he receives in benefits. He worked for a month in the same job, but with no contract. Owing to the high level of employer contribution payments, the employer could pay Robert more if he worked ‘under the table’ than if he received a legal gross wage, and in that case Robert would not have to pay taxes, insurance, or the amount executed on his wages. At the same time he would be able to continue to receive benefits. The result is that under the same conditions and even under the same employer Robert takes home over 14,000 CZK, which is almost three times what his net legal income would be. And this illegal solution costs the employer 2,500 CZK less.

From: M. Brož – P. Kintlová – L. Toušek. Kdo drží Černého Petra: Sociální vyloučení v Liberci, Plzni a Ústí nad Labem. Praha: Člověk v tísni, 2007.

Story 2
Social cases against their will. Owing to EU Money
14 September 2009

PRAGUE: Iveta Balogová lived in a municipal tenement building for years. She made her rent payments regularly, and there were no particular problems with anyone in her family. Nevertheless, she and another seven faultless parties are slated to become clients in housing with an accompanying social programme.
Why? Ostrava Vítkovice wants to sell their building to Centrom, an association which specialises in social housing and other services.
‘I want to continue to be a tenant of the municipality, not some association that provides social services’, says Balogová. ‘I duly pay my rent, I have never disturbed the peace. Why should I suddenly belong to some organisation? It’s obscene of them to do this to us’.
The logic of the transaction is simple. The city borough has neglected the building for years and doesn’t want to invest in it. It would prefer to sell it. An organisation offering social services will have better access to European and other Czech subsidies than any other owner.
The sale, which is to go through this year in December, has critics not only just among its tenants. According to Kumar Vishwanathan of the association Vzájemné soužití [Living Together], this is a prime example of how European funds can be used contrary to their purpose.
‘Money for Roma integration is supposed to truly go towards their integration’, says Vishwanathan. ‘Here it is serving the opposite end. This project wants to turn people who are able to function, have no serious problems, into social services clients.’
The tenants also fear that they will not have enough money for the repaired flats. The clients of Centrom in another building pay almost three times more than they do. ‘When I repair a building of course the rent goes up’, says Ivana Neséthová of Centrom. ‘I will try to create the kind of conditions that will allow them to stay in their flats.’

Updated 11.01.2010

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Česká ghetta. Stránka kampaně Likviduj!: http://www.ceskaghetta.cz

Člověk v tísni: http://www.clovekvtisni.cz

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Mapa sociálně vyloučených a sociálním vyloučením ohrožených romských lokalit v České Republice: http://www.esfrcr.cz/mapa

Rada vlády pro záležitosti romské komunity: http://www.vlada.cz/cs/rvk/rzrk/rzrk.html

Terénní sociální práce: http://www.tspweb.cz

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