Is tackling inequality of ability enough?

In recent weeks there has been a debate about equality and diversity. Many would argue that the case for diversity has been won. Mainstream politicians now apologise for past opposition to many aspects of diversity such as past opposition to equal rights for minority groups. However in achieving such advances for greater diversity, does that mean that equality is being left out of the equation?

This point was articulated well by Deborah Orr, who recently in the Guardian explained that equality and diversity were different. That a diverse society could tolerate wide degrees of inequality whilst allowing a range of notionally equal personal and social rights. It could be argued that where we now are is arguably the most modern version of equality of opportunity. At the same time formal equality of outcome is seen as unrealistic in a complex, modern, liberal democracy, which accepts a very wide range of lifestyles.

Perhaps the problem is that the frame in which people view equality is increasingly too narrow, based as it was on the struggle to abolish absolute poverty, achieve formal equality of opportunity, provide a minimum standard of living and then widen rights that in the end also allowed for much wider access and diversity. All these are laudable aims where work still continues, but are they the only aspects of opportunity that count?

This is an active debate within TCC and in response we have drawn from our social marketing methodology for a broader answer.

An underestimated issue within inequality is one of changing behaviour and providing support to help people with their motivations as much as helping people improve their ability. This requires an activist but focused approach to identifying what are the vital behaviour or behaviours that facilitate the most change. This may be a minority good behaviour that needs reinforcement or a specifically bad behaviour that requires intervention.

In seeking to change behaviour one needs to understand the two core elements that enable us to address the challenges faced by every individual:

  • Ability – This includes the services that enable people to receive a hand-up as well as life skills that people develop at various points
  • Motivation – This is about the willingness of the individual to commit to an action and stick with it over a period of time

Much is being done to provide support to enhance people’s ability. Sure Start, Educational services, Job centres. This is very positive and needs to be continued over the long run. However it does little to tackle either communities or people’s motivations in life. From an early point there are many demotivators that mean that for all the resources poured in to improve ability, little change is likely to occur.

The success in providing a minimum standard of living, whilst providing a starting block for many to aspire further, can provide little incentive for some within those communities. They may see themselves unable to succeed effectively in the complex society that we have created and are likely to feel they have little formal status within it, “so why bother”. In recent years some incentives have been created to assist people with a hand up, however these incentives are often too small in relation to the effort required to be rewarded with them, to make any significant difference.

The challenge for those involved in public policy is to develop the tools that enable us to gain greater understanding of peoples motivations in order to provide a similar level of support to that which is given to improve their ability. TCC believes the opportunity exists to use behaviour change techniques of in-depth segmentation and insight to more fully understand the motivations of individuals and use that to assist in the difficult task of narrowing inequalities in a complex modern society.

The above article was posted by Charlie Mansell, the Research and Development Officer of the Campaign Company

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