ONE of the most difficult questions I come across – a pretty normal, innocent question you’d think – is “So, what’s your work about, then?”
Well, you try and explain ‘Third Sector participation in Community Planning’ to someone who’s never heard of it before!
Sometimes I say “I work in the Voluntary Sector,” at other times “I work in an office,” does fine. But my favourite is: “I work with anyone who will work with us – to reduce inequalities.” It’s my favourite because while not everyone knows what ‘the Third Sector’ is, and even fewer have heard of ‘Community Planning,’ very nearly everyone I meet knows immediately and instinctively what we mean by ‘inequalities.’
But do we?
Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book The Spirit Level and through their organisation The Equality Trust have done sterling work to promote the proposition that more equal societies work better for everyone.
Social Research and Development pioneers the Joseph Rowntree Foundation consistently publish compelling evidence of the harm caused by social inequalities in the UK.
Fair Society, Healthy Lives, Sir Michael Marmot’s seminal Review of Health Inequalities in England, provided an incisive analysis of unequal health outcomes, their causes, and what we could do to reduce health inequalities.
The excellent interactive Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics website allows visitors to map inequalities in (for example) economic activity, education, health and housing.
Most credible commentaries on equalities will maintain that behind ‘outcome’ inequalities such as in health, education or housing lie the inequalities of age, disability, gender, race, etc – and that what makes these inequalities particularly pernicious is the unequal distribution of power – with very, very few exercising power over the many.
These commentators will often hold that attempting to address these social inequalities are fated to fail, unless we redress the imbalance of power which drives and determines unequal outcomes for people and communities.
What would a redistributive approach to the unequal spread of power in Scottish society today actually do? How might people and communities traditionally excluded from power over their own lives have their rightful power returned? Is it part of the work of Scotland’s Third Sector to support and enable community empowerment?
These are some of the questions which lie at the heart of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment agenda. And we want your help in answering them.
The Scottish Government has announced its intention to take forward a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill – probably early in 2012 – and the team which is currently ‘at the early stages of developing the scope of the Bill,’ is seeking initial input on the scope and content of the Bill, and on the best way to engage with communities.
This is where you come in – EVOC is hosting a ThinkSpace event from 9.30am to 12.30pm on Wednesday 16th November in our office (14 Ashley Place – EH6 5PX) to gather views on the Scottish Government’s upcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill. All Third Sector colleagues are welcome to join us – please register your attendance via the Events link and take a moment to respond to a few questions in our Survey.
EVOC will gather and analyse your views, and will present a submission on behalf of Edinburgh’s Third Sector to the Scottish Government team progressing the Bill.
We are keen to stimulate a positive discussion, hopeful that we will be able to present a coherent and credible submission to the Scottish Government team to help their thinking around how Scottish legislation can make a difference to the imbalance of power that blights the lives and the life chances of so many of our fellow citizens.
Join the debate!
Some background reading might help your thinking:
In 2009 the Scottish Government published its Community Empowerment Action Plan – Celebrating Success, Inspiring Change.
In its Party Manifesto 2011, the Scottish National Party said: We propose a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, which will make it easier for communities to take over underused or unused public sector assets. [https://manifesto.votesnp.com/voluntary_sector_volunteers_manifesto]
The Scottish Government published in February 2011 a Regeneration Discussion Paper – Building A Sustainable Future.
The Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services said: “While we recognise that the acquisition of assets can be a catalyst for community development, we believe that a new Bill must include a more comprehensive incentive to community empowerment. We recommend that in developing proposals for a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill the Scottish Government explores the potential of the Bill to promote:
- significantly improved community participation in the design and delivery of public services;
- and action to build community capacity, recognising the particular needs of communities facing multiple social and economic challenges.”
In its response to the Christie Commission report, the Scottish Government said:
Our priorities for improving partnership during this Parliament include:
- developing a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill that will significantly improve community participation in the design and delivery of public services, alongside action to build community capacity, recognising the particular needs of communities facing multiple social and economic challenges.
The Improvement Service has published a research paper in part ‘to draw attention to the stark inequalities that exist,’ Making Better Places, Making Places Better.
At the UK level the National Institute for Economic and Social Research has recently published a set of research reports on the nature, scale and future prospects for inequalities in the UK.