The depressing news that inequality is today worse than the 1970s comes as little surprise. One of the points made in the BBC report is how this is embarrasing for a government which has set out with the aim of tackling inequality.
I am reminded that a couple of years ago my directorate listed 'closing the gap' among its core aims. Its fate was to be eventually dropped by an incoming Conservative administration but for the couple of years of its tenure it seemed a noble objective.
In my experience however, the authority did little to reach out across barrriers. Changes were introduced so leaflets in surgeries and other locations disappeared in favour of 'factsheets' online and translated leaflets became only available on request. The service became in effect only visable to those who had the resources to search for it. Service users on low to middle incomes also faced the biggest squeeze when the financal assesment procedures were overhauled.
The trouble is that the policy aims were like a piece of soviet-era rhetoric, a doctrine of equality preached by a comfortably-off political class with no real commitment to them apart from as a smokescreen. I once quizzed our Executive Director about how a policy which could be detrimental to this aim could be amended to take equality into consideration only to be told, reveallingly, that 'social levelling' was not the aim of the policy in question. This left me to wonder what the point of aims, charters and in my authourity's best jargon 'golden-threads' (the process by which the core aims filtered down to ground level actions) are apart from to impose a layer of hyper-reality where we supposedly work towards an aim but by our actions move ever further from it.
Social-care has a crucial role to play in pushing for greater equality. In my city it was no accident that the busiest team covered the worst-off area of the city. There are undisputed links between poverty and poor health. Conditions such as COPD and diabetes are more likely to affect the poorest. We need a more pro-active social care agenda which is not afraid to question policies, to empower individuals and communities, and to find new ways of working with education, health and other services to prevent needs arising. But, we can only do this if we mean it, if we really care about closing the gap.