This speech was made by Nina Munday, Manager of Fife Centre for Equalities at the Sustainable Development Seminar on 04 September 2017 as part of Diversity Week Fife 2017.
“In this section I would like to share with you my thoughts about Sustainable Inclusion”
I have been working in the third sector since I was 24. It wasn’t my first job since I graduated. I worked in various oil and gas projects in Aberdeen until I became pregnant and wanted to move back to Edinburgh to be closer to my mum. I took on my first job in the third sector when my son was four months old. I was a development worker for a befriending service for older people. After a year I left this post to work for a befriending service for children and young people between the ages of 5 and 14. I did that job for three years. I met a boy of five who was referred to my project, described as anti-social by his teacher, he was reluctant to speak to me at first until I asked him whether other kids called him names, he looked at me as though I was the first person to ever listened to him. I knew at that point I wanted to do more than just training volunteers to befriend children like him.
So I moved on to become a racial equality officer for a racial equality council. In this job, I was dealing with discrimination and harassment cases as well as developing equality initiatives within education and employment. Handling discrimination and harassment cases was tough, I had to support, counsel and represent people who had suffered a whole range of negative experiences. I wanted to give them the best resolution so they could restart their lives with confidence.
After five years, I needed a break and I joined a Youth Social Inclusion Partnership as a reaching out programme co-ordinator. This time I was working with young people between 14 and 21, a particularly difficult group to engage with. The partnership was very successful and developed lots of interesting initiatives.
As much as I loved my job at the Youth Social Inclusion Partnership, I found myself being back in a racial equality council, this time as a director. The year was 2004. This was the time when equality legislations and regulations were rapidly changing. The name, aims and objectives were changed to prepare the organisation for the new Equality Act. From being an organisation with a specific race equality focus, it became a regional equality organisation looking after the interests of all protected characteristics. I wanted the change personally because I felt working on single equality strand does not reflect the complexity of human nature.
Without boring you more with the details of my career journey, I was with this regional equality council for 8 years. I had a short career break in Singapore for just under three years, working as a consultant at a national disability organisation.
It is not surprising that I applied for this role as Manager of Fife Centre for Equalities when I came back to Scotland in 2014. I was so excited when I was given the opportunity to design and lead a new equality organisation. I couldn’t wait to bring all the equality interests together and develop common solutions.
During my working life, I have seen the introduction of many new legislations, new ways of working to give people more say about their lives, new structures to increase participation, and more transparency about political decisions. We should be at a time when everyone should feel more included, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
The Equality Act 2010 was introduced to harmonise the rights across different groups. The Act also added some new protected groups and protections. The language of the Act is also a lot stronger in comparison to the older law e.g. from “promote good relations” to now “foster good relations”. The Act also acknowledges that our characteristics cannot be neatly defined in one or two categories. The legacy commissions were merged into one to minimise competitions between different equality agendas.
Fife Council took a very brave decision to create a new organisation to mirror that national change.
Having been in this post for three years, I can’t help feeling that contrary to the aim of the Act, people are becoming more segregated rather than integrated.
Instead of bringing about a holistic approach, we still see national government and other bodies reporting on activities based on distinct protected characteristics as though we are signalling to people that they can only be consulted on or accessing services based on one characteristic.
Instead of supporting individuals accessing mainstream services, we have seen examples of specialist services being overly-protective of their users and creating an unhealthy dependency culture.
We have also seen many examples of people of different protected characteristics travelling long distances to attend a meeting or access a service instead of participating in their local setting simply because the service they are accessing has a label that they could identify with.
We continue to see inclusion as something added on after a policy is made, an amenity is built, or a service is designed. The type of inclusion is often dependent on the range of people the organisation has consulted with. People who have the in-depth knowledge about inclusion are often in the outer circle rather than being around the decision table.
We are at a cross-road.
Do we continue to enable people to come together based on how they choose to define themselves?
One thing we must be clear about is where do these definitions come from? Are people defining themselves as they see fit or are they trying to fit into definitions set by others?
People naturally want to be with other people who share common interests, especially when you find yourselves to a be a minority. If people are not participating in the wider society, could we easily conclude that the individual feels excluded or simply that the individual chooses not to be included?
What could be the consequences when people in our society continue to lead separate and parallel lives?
One example I would like to share with you. Remember my first job in the third sector? Befriending Service coordinator for older people.
When I was working with older people, it was seen as a positive flagship project when the first Chinese sheltered housing was built. Since then we have seen them being built in cities across Scotland. There is one in Fife where a lot of my older relations are living.
During a casual chat with an older Chinese gentleman very recently, he told me he came across an old business associate who he hasn’t seen for twenty years. His business associate asked him what happened to his English. It wasn’t until then he hadn’t remembered he was communicating well in English when he had his own business. For the last twenty years, he has been living in Chinese Sheltered Housing and going along to Chinese lunch club on a weekly basis. When he went to doctors he was accompanied by a worker or his family. He felt he lost his ability to converse in English because he only needed to speak in Cantonese in his daily life. He also told me he often felt sad when he was having the occasional dinner with his grandchildren. They would all be speaking in English around him. He couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand him.
This encounter made me reflect on the decision of creating a living environment based on a specific ethnicity. At the time, it was regarded as a good solution to an identified need. Could we have predicted the impact on the individuals who moved in these sheltered housing? No one even now would regard such a project as segregation.
Leading separate and parallel lives does not only apply to minority ethnic groups. It applies to every person. The needs or aspirations are not often shared with people outside of their group. The communications are also often one-way i.e. from group to a service provider in an artificial setting such like the seminar of today. In the day-to-day lives, there are not a lot of multi-dimensional conversations such as involving people of different types of equality interests. We don’t know the barriers that each other face because we don’t interact with one another enough in education, work, home or socially.
I hope I have given you enough food for thought for this afternoon. We have a number of experts here to help guide our discussions to implement sustainable inclusion. Before I pass it over to them, I would like to remind you to think of the long-term goal. Think of the society we want to live in. Remember a solution that looks good now may create a lasting negative impact in the future.
Hopefully by the end of this seminar, we will come to the conclusion that Sustainable Development and Sustainable Inclusion are the same thing. Without people feeling being part of the solutions for the wider community, we will not have a cohesive society.
Thank you for listening!”