In 2017 the Inner East Primary Care Partnership (IEPCP) led the development of an Integrated Health Promotion strategic plan (IHP) between three Community Health Services, Women’s Health and the PCP in the Inner East catchment of Melbourne. Social inclusion had already been identified as a key regional priority by the Eastern Metropolitan Social Issues Council, and was one of the priorities adopted by the Inner East Health Promotion Partnership (IEHPP) in their IHP 2017-2021.
The IEHPP is working towards increasing social inclusion within the catchment, adopting the definition originally developed by the Australian Social Inclusion Board. It identifies that social inclusion is when “people have the resources, opportunities and capabilities they need to learn, work, engage and have a voice.”
As each of the three community health services had a history of engaging with communities living in social housing, this was selected as one setting for action. Access Health and Community’s involvement in liveability research in Boroondara led to the focus of this action to understanding the links between neighbourhood liveability and social inclusion.
What did we do?
With support from IEPCP, health promotion practitioners (HPPs) from Access Health and Community, Carrington Health (now healthAbility) and Link Health and Community, engaged with residents from Ashburton-Alamein, Hawthorn East, Wattle Hill (Burwood) and Ashwood-Chadstone social housing communities. A shared engagement strategy was used to consult with these residents and identify priorities for action to improve liveability as a pathway to social inclusion.
Engagement with residents occurred via individual consultation, online and hard copy surveys, community meetings and focus groups. The HPPs met regularly throughout the engagement phase to share findings in relation to both successful engagement methods and consultation findings.
Local action plans are being developed and implemented to address these priorities. The action phase commenced in 2020, although a number of actions were delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
While some priorities identified were specific to individual communities, a common issue across all the communities was the need for improved opportunities, resources and capabilities for digital inclusion. The increased reliance on digital technology created by COVID-19 has reinforced the critical importance of digital inclusion and exacerbated existing inequities. The HPPs are working together to build partnerships and address the norms, structures and practices that have compromised digital inclusion for these communities, addressing issues of digital access, affordability and ability.
For example, the HPPs are developing partnerships with local providers of digital mentoring and training programs to build their capacity to engage with social housing communities, ensuring programs reach communities who are most at risk of exclusion. The HPPs are also advocating that internet access is as essential as other utilities and seeking to address associated infrastructure and affordability issues by identifying leverage points.
Alongside the shared work occurring around digital inclusion, other opportunities and actions that emerged included resident involvement in advocating for improvements to Wattle Park and Burwood, and resident voices being included in Monash City Council’s consultation processes for their Loneliness Framework, Social Housing Strategy and the Ashwood Chadstone integrated site plan.
How did the PCP contribute to this success?
The PCP acted as the backbone organisation for this activity, including coordinating the practitioner group, supporting development of community engagement methodology and assisting in analysing and interpreting consultation data. More broadly, the PCP provided capacity building opportunities for social inclusion, including through the Inner East Social Inclusion Community of Practice, and by developing the Social Inclusion Framework to address gaps in knowledge and resources in the priority area of social inclusion.