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Black Lives Matter demonstrations: Addressing the inequality

The brutal death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests carried out worldwide have sparked critical conversations about racial inequality and discrimination across sectors including education, policing, health, housing, and the criminal justice system. Initially, protestors faced criticism for supporting an issue that supposedly has nothing to do with the UK, or not to the same degree. Public mood has since changed as many people are now consciously aware about the existence of racial inequality and public bodies are receiving much greater scrutiny from interested parties about the degree to which equalities and inequalities have been considered in the design of services and policies.

It is often easy to miss the bigger picture if one looks at the trigger of the protests. The BLM movement has shed light on shared experiences of racial inequality, and for many, these experiences remain hidden. Instead, overwhelming feelings of frustration and desire for change are channelled through powerful peaceful demonstrations, petitions, campaigns, and social media. BLM protestors seek not only to be heard but to challenge the status quo in suburban and rural communities – demanding societies pay closer attention to the existence of inequality, learn from past experiences and identify new and better opportunities to build a fairer and safer society.

The inequality issue is further intensified by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities. In a recent report, Public Health England confirmed that health inequalities are associated with Covid-19 transmission and mortality and that historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare contributes to a disproportionate affect, consequently some communities are less likely to seek help. The report places public engagement with disproportionately affected communities at the heart of its recommendations to reduce health inequalities and impacts of Covid-19.

Many organisations are now going through a process of policy review or service change to tackle health and racial inequality. Local authorities are reviewing statues and monuments with links to colonialism and the slave trade. Other authorities commit to working with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities to challenge causes of inequality. The College of Policing is drawing up a plan of action to address racial inequality in the criminal justice system, including concerns over stop and search and the use of force. As part of Covid-19 recovery, health authorities are working to develop strategies to reduce inequality by understanding the social, cultural, and economic determinants of COVID-19 within disproportionately affected communities.

With many review processes now underway, how can organisations carry out public consultation and engagement effectively to address inequality?

Public bodies must make extra effort to include seldom-heard groups when making decisions about how it delivers services or implements a policy designed to tackle health and racial inequality. However, it’s crucial to understand that public engagement on issues of inequality is not a one-off exercise. Central to this argument is the notion that racial and health inequalities emerge over time, rather than a sudden upsurge. Therefore, it’s difficult to believe that one public engagement exercise will achieve equality. Rather, organisations should undertake longer-term continuous engagement, which will allow time to develop understanding and build relationships with seldom-heard communities, ensuring you can work with them on an ongoing basis to find solutions.

The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) requires public authorities to have due regard to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between individuals that share protected characteristics and those who do not. This means listening to people from protected characteristics and understanding what needs to be taken into account that does not create a disadvantage connected to that characteristic. In doing this, the Equality Act 2010 allows public authorities to treat some protected groups more favourably than others in order to meet their specific needs and prevent them from being at a disadvantage. Public bodies and other organisations observing the equality duty will need to produce a worthwhile equality impact assessment and understand the 5-stage process of a good equality analysis that allows you to design and implement services that provide equitable provision for all.

Trust and confidentiality are equally important to ensure effective public engagement. Good governance means allowing room for discussions and conversations to occur in a safe place and working together to create solutions to reduce inequalities. Engaging and working with seldom-heard communities as ‘equal partners’ allows for an open and honest discussion about past experiences and current challenges. This approach enables you to learn and gain a better understanding of barriers and needs that should be addressed to overcome inequality.

Public engagement will be easier and more inclusive if you take into consideration attitudinal, cultural, and practical barriers to participation. There may be language barriers, some may not be able to express their thoughts and ideas accurately or may fear cultural stereotypes and bias. It’s useful to engage local faith, anti-racist and human rights organizations or even recruit volunteers from communities that might represent the views of protected groups. It is crucial to take a non-judgemental approach to engagement, so be conscious of any potential personal cultural bias, stereotypes, and prejudices. Being aware of cultural norms and having the necessary cultural knowledge and skills to foster culturally effective communication with people from various cultural backgrounds will enable you to work from their perspective and make better decisions.

The issue of racial and health inequality is a sensitive one and therefore requires careful and thorough public engagement – some organisations may find the engagement process challenging, but public bodies should be aware of the public law history of judicial review for failure to do this with substance and rigour. Hopefully, this information will help to improve the quality and effectiveness of your engagement process.

The Institute has vast knowledge and experience in the 5-stage equality analysis process, continuous engagement, reaching seldom-heard groups and producing equality impact assessments. If you would like more information or to speak to someone about a specific situation, please contact us here.

About the Author

Sheena joined the Institute at the end of 2019 as our Public Policy and Research Officer. In her evolving research-based role, Sheena will be writing articles and commentaries for our newsletter and building case studies of past and future Institute projects highlighting different sectors, pitfalls and law.

Read more about Shaheena

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