Your constituency contains a mixture of people – old and young; better off and less well off; disabled and abled bodied. There will be inequalities between people living in the area. As a councillor your role is to represent and support a whole range of people and make sure that they get the support and services that they need.
‘Equalities’ is often seen as difficult and problematic, fraught with the potential to make mistakes, upset and offend people. It doesn’t have to be, nor does it have to involve masses of additional work. To some extent, it’s about recognising and acknowledging that people come from very different places, worlds and life experiences; they have different opportunities, resources and different views. In our society ‘power’ is a very real issue. Whilst you may not be able to change all of these things, on a personal level, the starting point should be a desire to be fair to everyone. You may find yourself in the position of having to balance different priorities and needing to consider the implications of your decisions for different groups of people. At a time when resources are scarce, you need think about how to protect those groups that are already disadvantaged, are most vulnerable and whose voices are rarely heard.
Working in more inclusive ways can involve some personal change and challenges – at the very least, challenging some of our ‘commonsense’ and maybe long held views which are possibly based on stereotypes and prejudices. You probably won’t be able to fundamentally change people’s views and attitudes but can certainly encourage them to listen to and understand more about each other.
It’s useful to acknowledge that some people don’t necessarily subscribe to ‘treating people equally and fairly’ and you may find yourselves in the position of having to deal with some ‘hard issues’ that are raised by the notion of equality and diversity. E.g. religious beliefs about homosexuality; ‘immigrants’ are stealing all our jobs’ and, ‘women should know their place’ type views.
What you can do though, is commit to fairness all round, explore your own views and perceptions and think about how you will deal with prejudice and discrimination. It’s not always easy but there are lots of things that you can do that can help.
Have you heard of this?
As a local councillor it might be helpful to be clear about the implications of the new Public Sector Equality Duty that forms part of the Equality Act 2010, and which places a proactive legal requirement on public authorities to consider the impact of what they do for a range of communities and groups. The onus is on the public authority, not the individual service user, to ensure it meets the requirements of the duty and adjusts its policies and activities accordingly. See Equality, Entitlements and Localism. For more in depth thinking on the impact of recent policy and legislation on equalities groups see Open For All? The Changing nature of Equality under Big Society and Localism
A major question that has been raised about increasing decentralisation is:
How can we ensure that it doesn’t lead to a reduced focus on outcomes for those groups that rely on public services the most heavily?
Look at the ‘map of your community’ and think about:
Deal with community conflict in the bud:
- nip community conflict in the bud wehrever possible
- think about how you can deal with conflict
- be aware of rivalry in some areas
- find out what the significant issues are and what might underlie these issues
- think about how to challenge some of the more common stereotypes and misconceptions people hold about different groups
- support people before they get cross – before it gets to ill-will and the jumping up and down stage
- find out which minority communities are in your constituency
- know whose voices you are hearing, which are missing and support those ‘less heard’ to engage
- be prepared to hear different voices – not just respond to the loudest
- have dialogue with people outside established groups including communities of identity
Ensure that all sections of the community can become involved if they choose:
- recognise that some communities may currently lack the capacity to participate, for all sorts of reasons
- support those groups with less capacity to play an active role
- ensure that everyone can take advantage of the new Community Rights
Take active steps to build community cohesion:
- broker relationships between groups – especially in diverse communities
- invite people individually to come along to discuss issues
- bring people together to discuss issues, assets and ideas
Manage tensions between yourself and others:
- ask for, and be open to, feedback
- know when to step back and when to intervene
- know when to ask for help
Have you thought about this?
Since we are all coming from different places, with different cultures, traditions, upbringing and life experiences – even those of us born in the same country – it is no wonder that there is so much potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication. We all have our lenses through which we view the world, how we make sense of it, what we see as right or wrong and how we express ourselves.
As people from different groups within the community take on the challenge of working together, these misunderstandings are likely to arise regularly and if not acknowledged and worked through, may well hinder or destroy what can be promising partnerships. It takes time to work through these things but in the end the community may well be stronger for it.
Move onto communities are us