In the last 50, 60 years, western and northern
Europe has really seen a shift. There’s been a growth in the service industry;
there’s been a decline of traditional industrial jobs. We’ve seen more open borders,
We’ve seen more movement from other parts of Central Southeastern Europe. When we think about marginalized groups it’s
that to a large extent we’ve always thought it’s ethnic-minority communities. But actually
there’s a huge segment of society that also feels that they’ve been disenfranchised. They
feel excluded. The sort of new sort of demonized group is
the white working class, those who are on the lower spectrum of the socioeconomic indicators.
These are people who have poorer outcomes in education, poorer outcomes in employment,
poorer outcomes in health. Communities that once perhaps relied on there
being, you know, the local factory or a local industrial employer to provide not only jobs
but a sense of local identity. These are solid, strong communities. They
face very challenging circumstances, particularly since the financial crash.
All of the worries about jobs and housing and insecurity have got much, much worse.
And you even have governments that are now quite actively withdrawing parts of the social
safety net that they once relied on. Very real measurable inequalities affect these
communities. We found very strong kinship and resilience
among these communities and families. There’s a sense that people are watching over
one another in a supportive way. In fact they would turn to friends and neighbors
to help with various problems such as local crime issues or to hear about where work was
available before they would contact public authorities. In some of the cities we did have very strong
views around immigration. They’re part of the majority community of
their country and they share certain values and they’re unsure whether people coming from
immigrant backgrounds will share those values or not. But there’s an openness to new people.
People actually saw it as a real positive aspect of their area that it was ethnically
diverse. Being in a community where many people are
taking low-income jobs means that people are less secure about their future prospects. They’re less sure that there will be benefits
there to support them when they’re out of work. There’s less of a guarantee that there
will be public housing available to them. It’s also a sense of inequality, perhaps in
the health system that they might not be getting the treatment that people in better off areas
are getting, or in the education system. There has been a trend particularly in the
UK but also the Netherlands and Germany, a language in the media that seeks to blame
poor and marginalized people for their own poverty and marginalization.
That has an impact on the way that communities can feel about themselves.
It can increase a sense of dislocation between their own communities and the rest of the
country at large. People do want to participate politically.
People do want to be involved in decisions about their own lives, their own neighborhoods, and their
own cities. What is it that can increase people’s sense
of active citizenship? Initiatives that succeed are ones where different
agencies, different areas of local government or different public services communicate and
work well together. Working together can actually support people
who might be facing a range of different challenges. People have to feel confident that if they’re
asked to have a say in a particular issue that their voice is actually being listened
to and that changes will happen as a result.