Skip to main content

A tale of two cities: Community perspectives and narratives on inequality, struggle, hope and change: Executive summary

Today we are facing unprecedented inequality challenges. Who holds responsibility for the widening gaps in society and how do we solve them? While one mode of change, policy, has clearly had an impact on gains for inequality, people no longer appear to believe the state can act alone and that a combination of civil society actors also have a significant role to play in tackling inequality.

However, while there have been recent calls for a community of common interest there still appears to be an emphasis on change – making solutions and leverage points as residing in the hands either of recognised NGO’s, policymakers or formal movements and institutions. The potential voice and role of ordinary people in making change seems to be overlooked entirely. This gives rise to a significant gap in knowledge and voice. If we worked in new ways, hearing from more of these ordinary voices, and from this created different evidence and insight, would we be able to develop new ideas on understanding and tackling inequality? There is evidence to suggest that if we did this our measures would be more precise and relevant, and therefore that findings and policy might differ. With different insight, we might be able to question prevailing ideas in a more fundamental way and create more leverage points. For example, is an inclusive growth model the best way to create change? Should communities be ‘let into’ growth, or should we work with another paradigm entirely?

In what follows, we present community perspectives on what inequality is, and how it is experienced, struggled with and resisted. These perspectives – rooted

in lived realities – help us to understand inequality in a much more nuanced way than the account typically portrayed in political and media narratives. The lived experience of inequality helps us to begin to see the boundaries of different types of power and decision making; how power feels to those who do not control budgets, spending and decide on services. Understanding the complexity of communities’ experience helps those who do control levers of power, finance and influence to develop better strategies to tackle inequality. Applying this understanding begins to identify opportunities for mutual and collaborative approaches which actively challenge inequalities instead of reproducing them.

This summary shares the findings of research which took place over a year in three different communities in a city in the North of England. Furthermore, while the

evidence and examples are drawn from one city we have found that its themes chime with cities and places in other parts of the UK and internationally.1 Further research is necessary to test the practical application of these findings for strengthening community responses to tackling inequality, but we believe they offer some clear pathways to new solutions.