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Localism & Big Society: "a step backwards" for equality?

"Open for All?" The changing nature of equality under Big Society and localism

New research into changing UK policies suggests that the emphasis on localism, the Big Society and welfare reforms represents a step backwards for equality in the North West and is "a real threat to the equalities voluntary and community sector."

The research indicates that:

"the drive to reduce central government prescription and bureaucracy and to hand more power to communities ... [has] come without an adequate consideration ... of the impact of these emerging policies upon equalities groups."

The research looked at the way policies are affecting a range of people (and supporting groups) that make up the various categories which are protected by law under the 2010 Equalities Act - including disabled people. It was commissioned by Voluntary Sector North West (VSNW) and the North West Infrastructure Partnership (NWIP) and was carried out by the Centre for Local Economic Studies and Edge Hill University: over 250 groups in the region took part in the study.

An executive summary of the report was launched at the VSNW conference in early October, and is now available online. The full research report will be available later.

The report suggests that

1. The policy reforms have come at a cost.

The change from talking about "equality" to talking about "fairness" suggests weakened commitment to equality, while many of the Equality Impact Assessments done for the policy changes have been "patchy".

2. New forms of representation are weak and are excluding some groups

Emphasis on geographic communities means a weakening of involvement in service planning and policy decisions for groups that are not based on local areas, such as disability groups or lesbian, gay and bisexual groups 

3. Cuts are damaging the voluntary sector's ability to deliver "Big Society"

The government has placed great importance on the Big Society. However the way that public funding cuts are going is leading to closure and reduction in capacity within the VCS. Larger VCS organisations may benefit but many smaller groups have already closed and the sector may be transformed in a way that fails to meet the Big Society vision.

4. Welfare reform is having a negative impact on equalities groups

This research found that benefits and services are being reduced in key areas that negatively affect some equalities groups. Disabled people and women saw themselves a being in the front line for reforms to benefits and cuts in council services.

5. The implementation of Government policy is disproportionately harming the most

The proposed duty to reduce socio-economic exclusion was taken out of the Equality Act 2010, but it is still a barrier - and one that interacts with other problems: the research suggested that among equalities groups it is getting worse

6. A real threat to the equalities voluntary and community sector

The specialist services that contribute to promoting equalities have been particularly vulnerable to cuts in small grants (and at a time whe  demand for their services is growing) and they are more likely to need the support of infrastructure bodies to support their continued survival.


Centre for Local Economic Studies (CLES) 
 "Open for All? The changing nature of Equality under Big Society and localism: Executive Summary
October 2011