This document sets out a new way of framing the responsibilities that Local Authorities and other public bodies have in relation to equality, diversity and cohesion. It is based on new thinking concerning identity and fairness. It seeks to reconcile these “specialist” agendas with the realities of managing large public sector organisations – and, in so doing, to produce better and more efficient results.
2.1 Fairness and Identity
Fairness is central to the public sector’s role as it seeks to ensure that those in need get the support they require. It is both a moral imperative and a legal requirement. There is a compelling argument that the public are more interested in fairness than in favour: individuals are more concerned that public servants demonstrate fair (and accountable) decision making than that their own concerns are prioritised.
In order to organise itself, and how it should respond to the needs of its citizens and clients, the public sector has always categorised people. These categories can be powerful, in highlighting patterns of injustice and unfairness. But they can also be severely inhibiting, by imposing identities on people that just do not fit who they actually are and which consequently fail to understand what they actually need.
2.2 A Blunt Tool
Britain is now diverse in more diverse ways than ever before. And, socially in the last decade, it is a changed country. So the equalities agenda needs to be refreshed; to be made more sophisticated; to become more relevant to the super-diversity and fluid identities which characterise the people of modern Britain. Existing equalities concepts, laws and vocabulary, which have proved useful in addressing gross challenges of prejudice and exclusion, have served us well in the past but need now to take account of the change they have brought about. They are now less suited to the new circumstances of a changed Britain and consequently they are less effective. In some cases they may even worsen the issues they are there to solve.
In addition disadvantage does not simply stem from single identities, even though people who ‘belong’ to certain groups may experience persistent bias. There is an emerging consensus that disadvantage is created by a convergence of circumstances.
Our analysis and the way we deliver services needs to take account of this more complex understanding.
2.3 Legal Limitations: Compliance
The new Equalities Bill seeks to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations. It states the need for public authorities to have “due regard” to the needs of particular equalities strands or groups, and extends the existing six strands enshrined in law to a total of nine (adding gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnerships and pregnancy/maternity). It also makes local authorities responsible for addressing inequality resulting from social background.
In practice, these requirements reaffirm the need for an Equalities Impact Assessment (EIA) -like device in order to demonstrate that “due regard” of the needs of specific groups has been taken into account in the design and delivery of services.
However EIAs, based simply on predetermined groups (or a slavish adherence to the strands) only ever work at the gross or summary level. By demonstrating due regard across nine strands, a public authority can show compliance. It will not, through such a mechanism, demonstrate real responsiveness to the particular composition and dynamic of its population, nor the nuanced need of the individuals within it. It will tick boxes, but will it get to the heart of any problems?
2.4 Public Sector Services and Responsiveness: Performance
Across public services, from healthcare to policing or education, there is strong recognition that we need to drop a standardised, centrally prescribed model of service provision in favour of personalisation; the shaping and coordination of the service provided to the citizen in response to that individual’s needs.
There is also an increased recognition that, alongside public services, social capital is key to addressing needs. In short, the more people connect with one another, the better their well-being (measureable in positive crime, health, economic, educational and other outcomes).
The personalisation agenda is potentially extremely powerful in addressing unfairness, as it allows us to fine tune support to the aspirations and needs of individuals. It does not sit neatly, however, with the existing mainstream equalities concepts, where service design is shaped centrally in response to crude categorisations (e.g. ethnicity). The personalisation agenda, which is still evolving in practice, needs to be underpinned by a more refined fairness framework to ensure that service design is genuinely able to respond to real vulnerabilities and opportunities for individuals.
If the state, locally or centrally, treats people in ways that we do not recognise as relevant to ourselves, we come to distrust it. If central or local government makes assumptions about us that bear little or no relation to our lives, we disregard it. If the state seeks representation on our behalf from “leaders” that we do not recognise, then we feel no part of the process. Typically this is seen in attempts by government to relate to “muslims”, or “BME communities”, but it is as true when applied to young men, for instance, or to the elderly. Public Services need to learn new ways to talk to us as individuals. How far does the current system of “consultation” serve only the formal needs of government and long established vested interests, rather than developing public service responsiveness in a dynamic way that matches the aspirations of individuals?
A more sophisticated approach to fairness and the ‘democracy’ of consultation is required: one that builds on Britain’s compromised, layered, muddled but robust governance system, but which allows for different models of involvement with, and responsiveness to, different cultural norms and the needs of individuals.
2.5 The Equality Overhead: Efficiency
The existing equality framework is potentially expensive, allowing for the rather blunt assumption that, by virtue of a person’s belonging to a particular ethnic or religious group, that person needs additional support from the public purse or has a set of pre-determined needs
The trouble with the current equality framework is that while the principle is admirable – to recognise that certain groups of people suffer disadvantage disproportionately in certain circumstances – the effect is all to often to apply resources with a blunderbuss inaccurately aimed not at the problem but at the groups. This is very wasteful. Resources need to be more accurately focused. It also potentially leads to a reinforcing of the tensions between groups, as particular ethnic groups, for instance, are seen to receive more public support than others, regardless of the levels of individual need.
A more sophisticated approach, building on the emerging thinking associated with the personalisation approach, the convergence that causes disadvantage, and the progress made in the past period, focuses resources on the most needy, as defined by their circumstances rather than their broad categorisation, allowing for a more targeted and efficient service. At a time of immense pressure on the public purse, such focusing is necessary to avoid either unsustainable spending levels or resources being spread too thinly.
3 The Need
This more sophisticated approach calls for three elements. These are:
- A new language of fairness and identity
The vocabulary and logic with which a more sophisticated analysis of equality, diversity, and fairness can be progressed;
- A recognition of the specific
A set of methodologies, processes and mechanisms which recognise that the particular qualities of equality and diversity flow from local character and circumstance, and from existing organisational strengths/weaknesses;
- Realistic change management
An agreed process about how to reshape services to achieve the effectiveness, efficiency and focus.
4 The Framework
Each area and each organisation is different. There can be no easy answers and no glib change manuals. Instead, the framework acts as a prompt and support for management, seeking to identify opportunities to improve customer service, institutional effectiveness and efficiency.
4.2 The Reshaping Challenge
The public sector has, especially during this phase of the economic cycle, three over-riding aims. These can be summarised as:
Providing good service to the service user; and solving social problems effectively;
- Institutional effectiveness
Connecting with the citizen; making decisions fairly and transparently; meeting legal and other compliance/assessment frameworks;
Stripping out unnecessary costs, improving value for money.
In implementing a more sophisticated approach to fairness, three distinct forms of identity need to be separated:
What the data show about the pattern of local people’s behaviours and needs (need).
How the individual chooses to categorise him or herself (individual);
How society categorises each of us (group).
The challenge for public service is to progress each of the three aims in ways which take account of, and respond to, the different forms of identity. The heart of the framework is therefore a cross referencing of the three aims with the three forms of identity. This produces a checklist of imperatives, which, the organisation or partnership can use to drive priorities and actions.
4.3 The Nine Imperatives
The core framework is a checklist of nine imperatives set out under the three aims. These should be used as the basis for assessing and improving the fairness of a location, partnership or organisation.
Aim A: Customer benefit
Support is prioritised for those whose need is greatest
- Imperative 2: PERSONALISED
Support is shaped by the involvement and the needs of the recipient
- Imperative 3: RELATIONSHIP-BASED
Managers focus as much on the quality of support relationships, particularly with the customer, as on process and target-based performance
Aim B: Institutional effectiveness
Management structures and performance measures are designed to encourage cross-functional cooperation in support of the customer
Consultative and accountability mechanisms are aligned with the ways the citizens see themselves
Systems are in place to ensure demonstrated compliance with equalities, human rights and cohesion standards/laws
Aim C: Efficiency
The way in which resources are used to address the requirements of the most in need is continually reviewed and improved
- Imperative 8: PROPORTIONATE
Minimal resources are expended on responding to unrepresentative lobbying groups/individuals
Throughout all services, there is an emphasis on preventing the escalation of problems, reducing dependency, and increasing community self-help
5 Implementation Support
This brief document is part of a major piece of work on fairness and identity, led by Black Radley and Simon Fanshawe, and supported by a wide range of public sector organisations across the UK. The outputs from this work include networks of like minded organisations, at the most senior level, and methodologies to support the effective use of the framework. For more details, please contact Black Radley.