THE BLOG

How Inclusive Is London?

14/04/2016 14:56

When considering that just above 48% of all Disabled residents in London are employed compared to 74% of non-disabled Londoners - a gap of 26% - then you come to realise that inequality is thriving in our capital. Besides employer policies and practices, attributable factors include difficulty in getting to work - with only 66 out of 260 tube stations being step free and 29% of disabled adults finding some buildings inaccessible. Whilst this indicates that London isn't inclusive, evidence points to it doing much better than Britain at large.

Improvements are certainly making a difference in some areas, but at the same time new policies and practices come along to scuttle progress. Developments in technology have opened up new possibilities to live independently. That leads to improved life chances, with better health outcomes, education and employment opportunities. Yet too often, policy-makers and designers focus on mainstream needs at the expense of minority aspirations. So when planners design road schemes like Hackbridge in Sutton, they prioritise the relentless flow of vehicles over pedestrians, with children and blind people left most vulnerable. The concept of 'shared spaces' simply turns key locations into 'no go areas' for some pedestrians. Just a little fore-thought may avoid negative consequences, even if unintended.

Failing to address the participation of children, disabled and older people in our communities has a wider impact on their families. That's especially true for those in poverty, with little more than low pay or benefits to chip away at systemic exclusion. Without affirmative action to attack that injustice, it is an impossible task to deliver tangible change. Despite valiant individual efforts, the collective endeavour slips further and further away.

Whilst Oxfam's proposal for a London Commissioner to tackle inequalities in major cities around the world is laudable, there is still much to be done to make London fair and truly inclusive. Exporting what our capital city does effectively helps others across the globe, yet surely we can learn from successes elsewhere. Whatever might transpire from current Mayoral and Assembly elections, tackling inequality and promoting inclusion must emerge as a priority for action. It isn't so much the roles, but the mission and measures that will determine whether change is delivered.

So for starters, we must overhaul the direct consequences of policies that give rise to inequality or indirect impacts when applied in practice. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is meant to help in this respect, but it is subject to much bureaucracy and bedevilled by people paying lip-service. In any case, taking steps to mitigate against adverse effects of a policy has more to do with fire-fighting than proactive measures to close inequality gaps. That needs fresh thinking by politicians, with a better sense of purpose amongst officials.

Instead of looking at the 'in capabilities' of disabled people, policy should be framed around the Social Model of disability. This means tackling the institutional and attitudinal barriers that are disabling, not requiring people to assimilate themselves into a all-fits-all approach. Too often disabled people have to integrate to get on with life, to conform and take the marathon rather than just the extra mile.

As we work longer and live even later, putting people out to grass is no option for the future. As partners die and families move away, far too many older people find themselves isolated. Practical challenges come with health problems, often leading to loneliness and the consequential mental health problems that brings. That's why early interventions are so important, as aging needn't be an 'end game'. The capacity they possess could be tapped into more creatively. That would bring a wealth of experience to wider social value - improves outcomes for older people themselves - which provides cost benefits.

We were all young once, believe it or not! Yet the risks that coalesce with a 'lost generation' are increasingly evident. Children and young people have slipped seamlessly into the era of social media, coupled with peer pressure; greater reliance on technology than activity, leading to poor health outcomes; soaring house prices and rents making it beyond reach to set up home; year-on-year fare increases making travel a luxury and limiting social mobility. So if a sustainable legacy is to be passed on to the next generation, we must address these social dynamics and tackle the causes of such inequality. Failing to intervene effectively and efficiently will lead to even more children and young people feeling 'outside looking inwards', with the repercussions that accompanies being excluded.

Whilst inequality is the Corollary to exclusion, it is much more complicated. Prejudice and resistance to change add to a toxic mix that continues to divide people and communities. That's why we must challenge ourselves, fundamentally reform and capture such elusive inclusion.

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