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The Perpetuation of Inequality: The Role of Community Engagement

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Abstract

In the aftermath of the disaster at Grenfell Tower there have been allegations that the local council failed to listen to warnings from residents about the potential fire risk in the building, along with other examples of attempts by the council to avoid dialogue. While these apparent failings of the council may be extreme examples, they are not isolated ones. The underlying culture and taken-for-granted assumptions of many public agencies mean that they struggle to engage and conduct dialogue with marginalised groups. Using the example of inequalities in the distribution of fire, I argue that the failure of community engagement itself serves to perpetuate the widespread inequalities found in British society. Although the incidence of fire is falling, the social gradient that exists in its distribution remains. This fact can be linked to the failure of services to engage with marginalised communities, those communities most affected by fire. Both access to services and the success of social policy interventions depend on effective dialogue between the state and citizens, but many are shut out from that dialogue. There is a pressing need to direct attention towards the ways in which public services relate to the communities that they serve.

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... The comments above are powerful and belie an interesting reality of NMP. Examples are extant of public bodies which seek to generate 'engagement processes' which are characterised by formality, traditional structures, pre-set expectations and largely operational outcomes (see Hastie, 2018, Grant and Drew, 2017, Shaw, 2017. Further, within the realms of community development, there is a constant potential that business-focused social responsibility narratives can affect how 'engagement' and innovations flowing from those might be realised (McLennan and Banks, 2019). ...
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