In a previous post, I explained how social science helps local governments implement public health planning and programs. This time, I’ll provide some specific examples about how social science addresses issues of social inclusion for vulnerable and marginalised community groups.
Previously, I described how, in the context of health, social inclusion is about ensuring everyone in the community has access and can fully participate in health services. Social science is used to shape policies, community programs and health services for minority and special needs groups. This includes people of different cultures and different family types, addressing disability and socio-economic issues.
Local councils often have terrific health education and community wellbeing programs, but minority groups may not know where to find information due to their socio-economic and educational background. For example, research shows that a significant proportion of elderly people (54%) do not use the internet, and still prefer to talk on the phone rather than use the internet to find information, yet many local councils have most of their services advertised on their websites.
People who have trouble with literacy may also be less likely to find the specialist information they need without support. A notable minority (15%) Indigenous Australians, particularly in remote areas, have trouble communicating in English. Language barriers as well as lack of access to transport, poor telecommunications connectivity, and lack of trust in doctors and hospitals all impact on access to local health services.
Social scientists also support vulnerable groups who might be more at risk of contracting certain illnesses, either through lifestyle (for example Type 2 diabetes) or biology and genetics (some cancers).
Social scientists have special methodologies we use to reach marginalised groups who may not want to come forward for fear of stigma or prosecution. For example, new migrants or former refugees may distrust government services due to torture and persecution in their countries of origin. They may instead prefer to seek help through friends family or local volunteer groups who share the same culture, language or religion, but these networks often have limited resources and cannot always adequately meet demand.
Some groups that face bullying or stigma that negatively impacts their mental health, such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) people. Youth are especially vulnerable, with research showing up to 42% of young LGBTQI youth have thought about or engaged in self-harm. Due to intense social isolation, they may not be aware of how local health services can support them.
In another example, people on social welfare pensions may not want to approach local councils for health services fearing that their pensions may be somehow affected if they require health assistance. They may be facing additional economic strain, or other social issues such as food insecurity that exacerbate their health and wellbeing.
Social scientists work to establish trust between special-needs, minority and marginalised groups, to help them connect with local health providers. Social scientists also design specialised programs to inform vulnerable groups about their options for seeking culturally relevant information.