Volume 14 Number 1
Towards An Inclusive Society
01 February 2001
Lawrence Fearon describes himself as a 'graduate of the streets'. He examines the issues behind social exclusion--and possible solutions.
Last November, 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was stabbed in the leg on his way home to a housing estate in Peckham, south London. He bled to death. Once again our society asks, 'Why? What has happened to us?'
The estate where Damilola died is one of western Europe's most deprived innercity areas, with high levels of unemployment, crime and violence. A recent government regeneration scheme (see bottom of page) has brought many improvements, but Taylor's death shows how far this regeneration--and British society as a whole--has to go.
Two years ago, Sir William Macpherson's inquiry into the brutal racial murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence highlighted the issue of 'institutional racism' in British society. This came as no surprise to those who have been labelled a minority in Britain. If you're Black or Asian in Britain, colour is one label you can't escape from.
At that time I was searching for an answer to the question, 'What is the hinge issue on which Britain's future swings?' It would not be unreasonable for members of Britain's ethnic minorities to feel that race is the hinge. But this may be too narrow, in a country where class, gender, religious and cultural differences are all issues to contend with.
The fact is that people are excluded for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps the hinge issue for Britain is not why people are excluded, but the culture of exclusion itself. What lies at its core? Could it be a motivation driven by a spirit of superiority and control, selfishness and indifference, greed and fear?
Some definitions of 'exclude' are 'shut out, reject, not consider, disentitle, banish'. Exclusion can cover lack of access to income, resources, the labour market, services and social relations. These are the issues which the residents of Peckham, and of many other similar neighbourhoods across Britain, have to contend with every day.
The issue of how to combat exclusion and create an inclusive society is one that I have been involved with for over 20 years. In the 1980s I was one of the founders of the Bridge Park project on the Stonebridge Estate in northwest London, one of the largest community projects in the UK. I went on to work for the UK Evangelical Alliance as a community initiatives consultant and now give all my time to MRA's Hope in the Cities UK initiative. Its mission is to help to develop inclusive communities and create trust-based relationships where all are valued and everyone is empowered to fulfil their potential.
I grew up close to the Stonebridge Estate which was notorious for its social problems. My parents came to Britain from the Caribbean in the late 1950s. They had struggles of their own: being transplanted into a new culture, cut off from close family ties, and having to cope with racial discrimination which excluded them from the mainstream of British society.
As a teenager, I was excluded from school, ran with the gangs and got into trouble with the police. Peer pressure was strong and the incentives to go straight were weak. It was at the age of 21 that a turning point came which led me to become a community activist. A fire at my flat, and a stretch in prison, made me feel that I wanted something different in life.
In the spring of 1981 a group of us co-founded the Harlesden Peoples Community Council (HPCC), at a time when the atmosphere in Britain's cities was highly charged. In April 1981, disturbances broke out on the streets of Brixton, south London. This was followed by a wave of rioting which engulfed 22 innercity areas around Britain, as the pressure caused by racial, social and economic exclusion erupted.
In this climate, the vision for Bridge Park was born. Against all the odds, we found the money and resources to convert a disused bus garage into an enterprising community complex, with sports and entertainment facilities, and 32 starter units for businesses. It was a drop in the ocean and illustrated both the vitality and problems associated with initiatives driven from the grass roots.
Our efforts were often frustrated by the cultural barriers within our local authority, and the policy swings that came with party-political changes in the borough council. And although, 20 years on, the rhetoric has changed considerably, the reality has not.
Public authorities often attempt to systemize the innovative approaches made by local people, so that they replicate institutional arrangements, rather than developing a culture of their own. Public sector employees assigned to develop these initiatives often show little commitment to understanding or supporting the upsurge of street-level activity needed. Demonstrating 'community involvement' can mean little more than demonstrating the assent of local people to the plans of the local authority.
Social entrepreneurs need all the encouragement they can get if we are to break the cycle of exclusion, deprivation and despair.
Some of this encouragement is coming from the national government. Prime Minister Tony Blair's first speech after he came to office in 1997 focussed on social exclusion. Since then the government has established a Social Exclusion Unit. In 1998 it launched a report on deprived neighbourhoods which set out a powerful analysis of what has gone wrong, and of the multifaceted approach which was needed to address their problems.
Following on from the report, 18 Policy Action Teams (PATs) were set up, to develop the Government's policy response. The results of their consultations, National strategy for neighbourhood renewal: a framework for consultation (Cabinet Office, April 2000) were published last year.
Over the last 20 years, the National strategy states, poverty has become more concentrated in individual neighbourhoods and estates, and the social exclusion of these areas has increased. Many deprived areas have higher mortality rates than the rest of the country, and higher numbers of people with low skills and literacy. They have six times the level of unemployment and three times as many burglaries. This is not only a problem for their residents, but the waste of potential, and the spending on crime and benefits, holds back the prosperity of the country as a whole.
One of the Policy Action Teams found that the proportion of people from ethnic minorities living in Britain's 44 most deprived areas is four times higher than that in other areas. Four out of five Pakistani and Bangladeshi families live on incomes that are less than half the national average--as opposed to just over one in four white families. All in all, people from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poor areas and in substandard housing, more likely to be jobless and to have low incomes, and more likely to have bad health and to suffer from crime.
'Mass unemployment and the closure of particular industries have devastated communities,' states the National strategy. 'New industries have required higher skills, and there has not been enough help for people to adjust to the changing jobs market. Many neighbourhoods have been left almost entirely dependent on state benefits and public money.' It paints a picture of overstretched public services, and of a flight from neighbourhoods whose reputations have been ruined by drugs, crime and youth unrest. 'Soon only those with no other option but to live in the area are left.'
The authors argue that the state response to the problem has often been thin and ineffective, relying on small-scale short-term regeneration programmes rather than addressing the 'chronic failure of mainstream policy'.
For a long time, deprivation tended to be seen as something which could be fixed with bricks and mortar. This missed important dimensions, they say, such as the need to help the unemployed to help themselves; the need to build trust so that people help each other rather than fear each other; the need for public services to be accountable to the community rather than simply to government; the importance of the private sector; and the need for services to work together, and for the community itself to be included in the process.
The National strategy concludes that there are four imperatives for successful regeneration:
* to revive the economy
* to empower the community
* to improve key public services--especially schools, health and the police--and to re-engage private services
* to find ways of joint working, which put the deprived communities 'in the driving seat' and ensure that all local authorities and service providers play their part.
In recent years a start has been made in tackling many of the causes of social exclusion. But more is needed.
Why, for instance, does social exclusion affect people from ethnic minorities more than the white community? The PAT study cited above points out that the problems of ethnic minorities are exacerbated by racial discrimination, by a failure to understand the complexities of their situation and therefore to tailor services to their needs, and by language, cultural and religious differences.
When you have a society which has at its core unhealed history, fear, superiority, dominance and a structure of governance whose instinct is to plaster over deep wounds, the outcome over time can be devastating.
Denial, anger and rhetoric make up the downward slope towards the pit of despair. The process of bringing about lasting change will require a lifelong commitment. The only way up is acknowledgement, acceptance and taking responsibility.
What is needed, I believe, is for programmes to involve the people they aim to assist more directly in decision-making and the delivery of services. This will require radical innovation in all sectors. Significant power and resources must be given directly to communities. Their capacity for entrepreneurship and self-reliance can only be developed by ending the dominance and inflexibility of the public sector. Policymakers and public officials will have to be more ready to take risks and learn from practice.
Dick Atkinson, a pioneer of community-based regeneration in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, stressed the need for 'local authorities doing less themselves and enabling people in neighbourhoods to do more'. He outlines three imperatives his new book, Urban Renaissance (Brewin Books, 2000):
to give communities a lead in neighbourhood renewal
to make better use of public resources so that they liberate rather than trap people to connect communities to wider economic opportunities so they share in growth and prosperity.
In the past, there has been a tendency to see people as representatives of structures. Instead we need to invest in the capacity of real people to achieve long-term social results. A holistic approach is essential--encompassing health, housing, schools, safety and the environment, all areas of life where individuals, families and neighbourhoods have a crucial role.
I have been greatly encouraged by the people I interviewed while preparing this article (see below). They are people of faith who have used their gifts to tackle aspects of social exclusion, often in very difficult circumstances. They have welcomed people rather than excluded them, and have helped to put understanding in the place of fear. In so doing, they have begun to lay the foundations of an inclusive society.
'My vision of Britain is of a nation where no one is left out or left behind, and where power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few,' maintains Tony Blair. 'Investing in that vision is an investment in the future of our whole country, and is in everyone's interest.' The challenge, I believe, is not just to government and business, but to every one of us.
DOORSTEPPING FOR JOBS
Since 1989 Pecan (the Peckham Evangelical Churches Action Network) has trained over 7,000 people in one of south-east London's most deprived innercity areas. In 1992 the area had the highest rate of knifepoint robbery in the UK. Street robberies rose from 80 per month in 1992 to 200 a month in 1994, and unemployment soared.
Pecan recruited for its courses by sending volunteers to knock on doors on the 'no-go area' estates of Gloucester Grove and North Peckham. Thanks to their efforts--and to a major government regeneration scheme--unemployment in one ward has fallen from 26 per cent to 10 per cent in the last decade. Pecan was cited by the Bishop of Southwark on BBC Radio 4, in the aftermath of Damilola Taylor's killing, as one organization that was successfully addressing Peckham's problems.
In 1996, the government embarked on the £70 million regeneration scheme, which began to demolish the old estates and build new homes, nearly all with gardens. It enlisted Pecan to run the community induction project, visiting over 635 homes since October 1996.
I visited Pecan to interview its managing director, Simon Pellew:
Lawrence Fearon: What do you see as the root causes of exclusion?
Simon Pellew: I think it's a mixture of economic deprivation, very poor education, very poorly constructed and designed housing, and family break up. And I would say that family break up is a crucial part of the mix. I think they all feed into each other.
LF: What do you have to share from your own experience of addressing exclusion?
SP: Exclusion is a hard nut to crack and you've got to break in somewhere. We focussed on employment, one of the easier areas.
I'd love to know how to address the problem of family breakdown but I haven't got a clue how to, it's so deep into society. I don't know how you stop employers being racist. I think improving schools is difficult but the Government's doing it.
But there is something that smaller charities can do to help employment. We can provide people with the skills to get jobs, we can provide them with the training they need and to some extent we can also help them overcome some of aspects of racism as well.
LF: Why do you do what you do?
SP: I was brought up in Epsom, which is a very wealthy area. When I was about 18, I was travelling by train up to London and out of the window I could see all the tower blocks. I felt how much God hated these places for what they were doing to people. I had a sense that they were a real abomination, an appalling and destructive thing in people's lives. I've never had any other sense of calling but that sense, that these things were evil and pernicious. That is why I do the kind of work I do now.
I really believe God wants people to live in decent accommodation, to have decent jobs, to have good education and to live in families that aren't ripping themselves to pieces. Those things seem to be worth giving your life for.
LF: Has Pecan been an expression of what you wanted to achieve?
SP: We still work with some of the most needy people in the country, particularly refugees and people with mental illness. That's what I think Pecan should be about.
One thing we at Pecan do differently is that everyone is paid the same. Partly that's to reject the market value approach to people, to say that you're worth far more than what you're paid.
LF: How has the involvement of different sectors helped in building a more inclusive community?
SP: In the 12 years that we've been working in Peckham, crime has fallen, unemployment has massively fallen, many of the atrocious housing estates have been demolished and education is improving.
This is partly down to a holistic approach: private companies have built houses, the local council has done a lot of work, charities including ourselves have been involved, the police have got their act together, and the faith communities have been involved.
It shows that cities can be transformed but it's expensive and hard long-term work.
LF: Could Peckham be an example to other parts of the country in terms of different groups working together in partnership?
SP: Yes! Although I'm reluctant to use the term partnership. I think partnership should be restricted to peers working together.
Partnership is attractive if you make it work but it's very time consuming, very expensive, and usually government programmes can't wait that long. What the council usually means by partnership is a consultation exercise. A real partnership is where they give up their power and in my experience that doesn't happen often.
Pecan can be contacted at 1-3 Atwell Rd, London SE15 4TW.
GATEWAY TO THE CITY
Spitalfields, in East London, lies just outside the square mile of the City, Britain's financial centre. While the City is perhaps the greatest wealth creator in Europe, nearly a third of Spitalfields' residents are unemployed. Eighty-three per cent of the population are Bengali, and 47 per cent of these are without jobs.
The City Gateway Initiative, founded by Dirk Paterson in October 1999, aims to build a bridge between these two areas and train and empower Spitalfields residents for IT jobs in the City. They target 18- to 25-year-olds, mainly from the Bangladeshi community, and aim to equip them with leading-edge skills. Their courses also address the cultural barriers and prejudices that often hinder entry into City jobs. Of the 24 people who have completed their courses so far, eight have gone on to fulltime university education and nine are in jobs.
Lawrence Fearon: What has been your work's focus?
Dirk Paterson: My vision has been to start some kind of mechanism by which the Bengali community, who have been excluded, could be included in the society of the rich. I believe the City needs its gates thrown open.
People who live on the edge of the City of London have this incredible feeling of rich and poor. There are people on one side of Brick Lane earning £1 million pounds as their Christmas bonus. While on the other side of Brick Lane there are seven people living in two rooms.
There is a feeling that this is utterly unjust. So we had a God-given vision of creating a way into the richness of the City for those excluded from it. Hence the City Gateway initiative.
LF: What would you say is at the root of exclusion?
DP: There are lots of reasons why people are excluded. One is, I think, that this City is basically racist, and another is that there is a perception that Bengali people don't have the right accents, the right skills and the right attitudes.
LF: How are you addressing the issue?
DP: We have set up an Information Technology Training Company limited by guarantee, a charity. The vision is not only to give people IT skills but also to encourage them spiritually. There are some 150,000 IT vacancies in the City, so it makes sense to link the skills deficit and the local unemployment--it's a simple win-win scenario.
As well as IT skills we wanted to give people confidence they've never had, because many have never had the kind of education that people like myself and people in the City have had. Many of them have parents who are second generation non-English speakers.
We want to give local young Bengali people the encouragement that they've never had because they were not expected to achieve more than two GCSE's in their school-leaving exams, or to do anything but muck around. Our vision is to give them the equipment to be included in the City.
LF: How have you given expression to your vision through Gateway?
DP: We produce a holistic package for the young people who come on our 14-week courses. People are allocated to a mentor at the very beginning, who will check on how the course is going, give guidance on choices that need to be made, check on whether the student is studying well outside the course and turning up on time and all those sorts of things which students often miss out on.
As believers, we bring a specific spiritual dimension to the work, and underpin all we do with prayer.
At the time of going to press, City Gateway is looking for a Deputy Manager, and would also welcome offers of mentoring, work placements or donations. Further information from City Gateway Ltd, Bethnal Green Training Centre, Deal Street, London E1.
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