Monday, 3 September 2012

‘Hard-to-Reach’ or ‘Easy-to-Ignore’?

In previous posts here and here I’ve discussed a rapid evidence review that myself and colleagues carried out on equalities and place-based policies in Scotland. Well the report has now been published. It’s been sent onto the Scottish Government and will also feed into the evidence being Local Government Committee in the Scottish Parliament inquiry into regeneration and economic development. Thanks to the good work of the EHRC it’s also been picked up by the media – the Herald, Scotsman and most amazingly the Scottish Sun!

A lot of what it discusses I’ve already talked about on here. To set the policy context for it, there seems to be a “return to place” in Scottish public with a new national regeneration strategy and other policy moves. Minor moral panics about things like the controversial TV show The Scheme (I’ve not watched it, so I’m leaving my views as “controversial”) have seemingly made neighbourhoods which, for most of the middle-classes in Scotland (including me) might as well be labelled “here be dragons”, seem like cauldrons of antisocial behaviour and poor-parenting that need curing through early-intervention projects. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before on this blog, these neighbourhoods are like this because we put all our social housing in one place and there is a relationship between income and many of these social problems. We need to stop pathologising neighbourhoods.

Anyway, I’m in danger of digressing into a rant here, so back to what was originally on my mind. One thing that this review explicitly talks too, and I hope challenges, is the “community of place” and “community of interest” dichotomy. As is said quite clearly in the report – people who identify with an equalities group have to live somewhere. I’ve always found the idea that there are these two different communities unhelpful and quite distracting. And I think it makes for very bad community engagement. To reflect on your own experience for a moment, if you’re anything like me you probably identify with many communities and have social capital in these various communities. I want different representation in each one. So, in my work community I want the representation of my union. In relation to my sexual orientation, I want to know that the political bodies and institutions contain people who share my sexual orientation so might be able to raise issues that are pertinent to me. In relation to my place-based community, based on my research, I actually want either organisations that really do represent the diversity of my neighbourhood (and not just those who want to turn up and protect their own interests [£]) This is the sort of anti-majoritarian deep democracy theorised by Iris Marion Young in Inclusion and Democracy. If this is not possible, I want leaders who can stand up for those who are not represented.

It’s because of this that I think the “easy to ignore” point of the title of the review is really important in place-based policies. In Scotland it is easy to presume that the most deprived neighbourhoods are homogenous, working class and White. The picture is actually much more complex. At the most basic level a worryingly large proportion of those residents are Irish Catholic and they are also experiencing poverty. Also, a lot of the problems that are co-incident with poverty – ill health and disability, maternity and paternity (lone parenthood) – are also protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Approaching them from an equalities perspective could, I believe, make place-based regeneration better, or at least improve its presentation (as I’m sure a lot of good work does take place). In sum a more embedded approach to equalities would stop the problematizing of groups and acknowledge the challenges they face – most obviously around disabled people who stop being a figure (of IB claimants or ESA claimants) you want to reduce and become a group who need help to access employment if they want to, or help to maximise their income if this is not possible.

This is an issue I discussed before, but I come back to it again, as I really do feel we need to acknowledge the intersectionality of place and identity when it comes to community and talking about “communities of place and interest” doesn’t help. Anyway, enough of these ramblings. Another thing I mentioned before was my very rapid review of the way the 32 Single Outcome Agreements of CPPs in Scotland treated equalities issues. Well, that’s available here.

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