Home > Applying the life cycle approach to social inclusion policy.

Pike, Brigid (2008) Applying the life cycle approach to social inclusion policy. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 28, Winter 2008, pp. 19-20.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland, issue 28) - Published Version

An article in the Autumn 2007 issue of Drugnet Ireland described how illicit drug misuse has  been fitted into the new life cycle approach to social inclusion policy in Ireland, as presented in the social partnership agreement Towards 2016, the national development plan 2007–2013, and the action plan for social inclusion 2007–2016. The drugs issue is addressed within the childhood, youth and working age stages of the life cycle, and under the additional heading ‘Communities’.1

On 1 October 2008 the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) hosted an international  seminar on the life cycle approach to social inclusion.2 The seminar marked the publication of the ESRI’s research into the role that life cycle factors play in shaping patterns of poverty and social exclusion in contemporary Irish society.3 The authors observed that the life cycle approach has been introduced in Ireland without any systematic effort to link its use to the broader literature on the concept, and no detailed consideration of how it should be applied in addressing social issues.4 
The authors explained how the life cycle approach to social inclusion marks a shift in perceptions of the nature of risk. Traditionally, social policy interventions have focused on risks associated with unemployment, disability, and insufficient resources in childhood and old age, and have tended to redistribute resources across the life cycle, from working age groups to children and to older people. More recently, social policy interventions have begun to focus on risks faced by specific sub-groups at particular stages in their lives, for example risks associated with entering the labour market, remaining in the labour market, or managing care responsibilities. These ‘new’ risk perceptions have emerged in response to the greater variability and reduced stability in career and family patterns. In essence, the life cycle approach seeks to reconcile social and economic objectives, and to emphasise the ‘multidimensional’ and ‘dynamic’ aspects of the social inclusion process: risks of being socially excluded are linked across problem areas, and difficulties experienced in any specific life cycle stage may be a consequence of difficulties in an earlier stage or a precursor of later problems.
The authors commented that while the life cycle approach offers a set of lenses through which to focus on the issues, it does not offer a ready-made set of prescriptions: a ‘general analytic framework that accounts for the dynamics and the links between events and the appropriate analytic tools’ is needed. To fully understand the nature of the dynamic inter-related risks requires the mapping of social exclusion patterns across the life cycle, and an understanding of the manner in which they combine with other socio-economic characteristics. Longitudinal data such as that beginning to emerge from the EU-SILC5 and being gathered through the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI)6 and the Longitudinal Study of Ageing in Ireland (TILDA)7 studies, are expected to greatly enhance Ireland’s capacity to map and analyse the dynamics and inter-related risks. These data will support research into the consequences of various policies and interventions for life cycle outcomes, and will play a critical role in translating the life cycle perspective into specific forms of policy evaluation and prescription.
In the drugs area, longitudinal studies have been undertaken in Ireland that suggest how a ‘general analytic framework’ for a life cycle approach to the drug-related aspects of social inclusion policy might develop. For example:
°    Irish children and their families:8 Conducted in two phases (1990 and 2000), this study investigated social development and family background, and health and well-being, and sought to assess childhood health and behaviour and the adult outcomes.  Alcohol and drug use were two variables examined in this study.
°    Young people:9 Conducted in two phases (1998 and 2001), this ethnographic study of drug use among young people in a Dublin inner-city community analysed changes in drug use behaviour over the study period. The authors argued that models of risk that rely on individualistic and rationalistic assumptions struggle to accommodate the fluidity and contradiction that characterises much drug use. Implications for strategies and initiatives aimed at reducing drug-related harm were discussed.
°    Research Outcome Study in Ireland (ROSIE):10 This longitudinal drug treatment outcome study monitored the progress of opiate users entering treatment between September 2003 and July 2004 at time-anchored points – at treatment intake, at one year and at three years after intake. The study monitored the influence of opiate treatment on key outcome measures, including drug use; general health; social functioning, including employment, accommodation and involvement in crime; harm (injecting behaviour and experience of overdose); and mortality. 
According to the authors of the ESRI research, it is these types of studies that will assist policy makers to recognise the varying needs of individuals and to design both services that provide protection against risks and also innovative social policy measures that address unmet needs and pre-empt problems. (Brigid Pike
  1. Pike B (2007) Where do illicit drugs fit in the new social inclusion policy framework? Drugnet Ireland, (23): 5
  2. Copies of the overhead presentations given at the seminar were retrieved on 17 November 2008 at www.esri.ie
  3. Whelan CT and Maître B (2008) The life cycle perspective on social inclusion in Ireland: An analysis of EU-SILC. Dublin: Economic and Social Research Institute.
  4. Whelan CT and Maître B (2008) ‘New’ and ‘old’ social risks: life cycle and social class perspectives on social exclusion in Ireland. Economic and Social Review, 39(2): 131–156.
  5. EU-SILC is an annual, EU-wide survey conducted in Ireland by the Central Statistics Office, in order to obtain information on the income and living conditions of different types of households. It commenced in 2003.
  6. Growing Up in Ireland is a government-sponsored national study of children. Commenced in 2007, the study will take place over seven years and follow the progress of two groups of children; 8,500 nine-year-olds and 10,000 nine-month-olds. The aim of the study is to paint a full picture of children in Ireland and how they are developing in the current social, economic and cultural environment.
  7. The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing is a national study of a representative cohort of up to 10,000 Irish people over the age of 50 years. Commenced in 2006, the study will chart the health, social and economic circumstances of the participants over a 10-year period.
  8. Cleary A, Fitzgerald M and Nixon E (2004) From child to adult: a longitudinal study of Irish children and their families. Dublin: University College, Dublin.
  9. Mayock P (2005) ‘Scripting’ risk: young people and the construction of drug journeys. Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 12(5): 349–368.
  10. Further information on the ROSIE study, including the seven ROSIE Findings bulletins published to date, may be found on the website of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 28, Winter 2008
Page Range
pp. 19-20
Health Research Board
Issue 28, Winter 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

Repository Staff Only: item control page