In this section we will look at:
- The extent of diversity within different communities
- Equality within a community
- How equality and diversity can benefit a society
- Problems that can affect equality and diversity within a community sources of community support
The word ‘community’ often makes us think about a geographical community, such as a village or town. However, a community can also be any group of people who come together with a shared aim or idea. At its heart, community is about people working together for the same outcomes.
Our communities form in several ways, for example:
- Through geography – e.g., our street, neighbourhood, town, city, or village
- Through sharing community facilities where we live – e.g., shop, village hall, local pub, school, or church
- Through sharing interests – e.g., sporting interests; music and theatre groups, or other leisure interests; local issues, such as planning applications for development in our neighbourhood
- Online – e.g., social media, chat rooms, forums, or Internet gaming sites from shared ethnicity – e.g., people from a Black Caribbean background
The UK has experienced social change for centuries, and it has welcomed the visitors and migrants that have come here. Our openness and tolerance are part of what has distinguished us as a country. More recently, our traditional characteristics of justice, liberty and fairness have been underpinned with strong equality laws to tackle discrimination, and to ensure equality across all groups.
Diversity within a community
Any community can have a diverse range of people within it. There can be physical diversity in, for example, age, race, gender, physical characteristics, abilities, and fitness. There can also be diversity in beliefs and attitudes based on, for example, religious beliefs, education, experience, or personal values. Even if they have an interest in common, the members of the community will vary in age, gender, levels of disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race and so on. People might only meet because of the thing that they have in common, but they can get to know other aspects about each other and appreciate and learn about the differences.
Sometimes, the diversity is very broad – e.g., in the London Borough of Haringey, almost 200 languages are spoken. People living and working in a city or large town will have a very diverse range of backgrounds, ages, cultures, beliefs, characteristics, employment, and interests between them.
Sometimes, there is not much diversity in a particular community – e.g., some ethnic groups prefer to live near each other and will settle in a particular neighbourhood, thereby excluding or discouraging other ethnically diverse groups. People from minority groups sometimes wish to live in the same local community as this makes them feel protected from racism, homophobia, or other discrimination. Certain areas in cities and towns become popular centres for immigration, and the diversity can reduce for a few years when a lot of people from one country settle together. They can help each other with translation, education, employment, youth activities, childcare and so on, whilst they get used to the UK and move towards integration.
The extent of diversity can often depend on the common thing or interest that brings a community together. If the reason for forming a group appeals to only a small number of people, with a strict set of beliefs and rules, the chances are that the level of diversity will be lower. If the community is based around a popular theme, large geographical area, broad activity, or a common interest that nearly everyone can join in with if they choose, the level of diversity is likely to be higher. For example:
Type of community
Greater extent of diversity likely in:
Lesser extent of diversity likely in:
Devout religious community
Clothing and appearance
A small village in rural England, or a small neighbourhood within a town or city
Race and ethnicity
A large city, such as Manchester or London
Equality within a community can be very important, especially within the common interest that links the members of a community together. People need to be treated with respect and given equal opportunity to take part in the activities within the community, so that they can feel welcome and valued, and able to make their own contribution to the group.
For example, fans may pay different prices for seats at a match, but they benefit from being treated equally in other ways, including by security and ticketing staff on the way in; by stewards within the stand; from being able to choose to wear the standard team supporters’ kit; from enjoying the match without fear of discrimination. Equality promotes a team spirit and a sense of fairness, and it enables everyone to give their best to their community.
Examples of equality within a community could include:
Equality of opportunity in a school
Children should be treated equally and not be judged based on where they live, their parents’ incomes, cultural backgrounds and so on. They all need equality of opportunity at school, and the chance to take advantage of the resources and education that is available to them.
Schools will vary, and some may be biased towards educating children from certain faiths, or those with special needs or with an exceptional sport or music talent, for example. However, state schools have to offer equality of opportunity to all children when selecting and educating their pupils.
Equality of access to public services in community healthcare
Doctors’ surgeries and hospitals will treat members of their communities equally, with treatments being based on medical needs. Access to healthcare services is available to all and is not dependent on income, cultural background, values or beliefs, age etc. Some services are means-tested, such as residential nursing care, but healthcare providers do their best to provide equality of access to all.
Equal rights in community legal and political matters
Members of a community can expect equality where legal and political matters are concerned – e.g., parking fines and yellow lines; traffic cameras for speeding vehicles; police powers of search and arrest; the right to protection against violence and crime; the right to vote in elections; access to members of parliament and local councillors.
Equality of employment opportunities in, and services from, local businesses and organisations
Businesses and other organisations in a community will embrace equality, especially as they are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This will apply to workplaces, retail, education and healthcare and they cannot discriminate on the grounds of the nine protected characteristics.
When looking at equality and diversity, it is important to understand the value to communities in creating and maintaining a diverse environment. The UK government produced ‘The Equality Strategy – Building a Fairer Britain’. In the report, they comment about why equality matters:
“We want a fair society where every child can progress as far as their talents will take them, not one in which people’s chances are driven by where they come from, how others see them, or who their parents are. We need a labour market that draws on the talents of all, not one in which people are written off because of outdated perceptions. Our democratic structures and communities are stronger and more effective if all voices are included, and everyone has the chance to shape and influence the decisions that affect them.”
Failure to embrace equality and diversity and to tackle discrimination affects everyone. If we do not provide equal opportunities and treatment to individuals, people are harmed, and our communities and society are weakened. There is also a financial cost if we do not make the most of the wide range of talents available, and if we do not protect people who experience discrimination and even violence.
Within any community, people will have multiple identities. There will literally be a multitude of different shapes, ages, races, and sizes. They will come from different backgrounds, cultures and have different values and beliefs. For a community to be successful, it needs to be well integrated and unified so that different groups of people can get on well together.
If different groups get on well, the whole community can benefit from the wide range of people’s:
- Abilities and talents
- Contacts and influences
- Cultures and traditions
- Values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour
These attributes can be used in a positive way to help everyone in all aspects of community life – e.g., in schools, transport, housing, social events, sports facilities, healthcare, youth groups, family support and the local amenities.
Local councils, pressure groups, voluntary organisations, local charities and so on work for their local community and are best placed to offer help and support when needed. For example, if a village floods, the local parish council helps to coordinate relief, sandbags, flood defences etc. They work with people from all parts of the community, harnessing their strengths to help those affected. They also help to lobby groups outside the community about flood prevention measures for the future.
Similarly, communities can work together against negative issues. At community level, policies and ideas can be effective when it comes to bringing about changes and dealing with problems. National government can make legislation, but it is often the local authorities that implement and enforce the rules. Local councils, police forces, social services and other groups work together to tackle crime, antisocial behaviour, harassment, and other community tensions.
If a community is under attack or feels threatened by something, the members are more effective if they work together – e.g., against future flooding; to challenge a planning application for a gravel quarry near their homes; to deal with riots in the streets; stopping discrimination, harassment, antisocial behaviour, hate crimes, extremism, and intolerance. By pooling their resources and making the most of the diversity of people in the group, they can be a very effective, democratic force that works to protect and serve all the members.
If a community does not embrace equality and diversity, individuals will not work together, and they will remain in separate cliques and groups. Time, effort, and resources will be wasted arguing and following selfish interests. On the other hand, if a community does maintain an equal and diverse environment, its members can all benefit from the rich resources available from everyone. Members can work together to protect the whole community and enhance everyone’s quality of life.
Communities have access to many organisations that can support the promotion of equality and diversity. These cover a wide variety of subjects and can be national, statutory bodies, charities, or local groups. Some specialise in supporting groups with identities, and others offer more general support, advice, and guidance.
We need to remember that a community can form in several ways, for example:
- Through geography – e.g., our street or neighbourhood
- Through sharing community facilities where we live – e.g., village hall, school, or church
- Through sharing interests – e.g., sporting interests, sexual orientation, or leisure interests
- Online – e.g., social media or chat rooms
- From shared ethnicity – e.g., a Bangladeshi community
Members of a community may identify a need for resources, information, support, advice, or guidance for certain members. There is a huge amount of information available, and the Internet is an invaluable tool when looking for community support. Local councils, libraries, health centres and volunteer organisations might also be able to help to start the search for the required support services. Having identified the needs, community members can approach the organisations who seem most likely to be able to offer the correct support and advice.
Providers of support services include, for example:
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
The EASS is an advice service that is aimed at individuals (not employers or professional advisors) who need expert advice and support on discrimination and human rights issues. They can give advice to individuals and explain legal rights and processes. The service works with Disability Rights UK and other partners.
Potential users could include people who need advice on their legal rights because they have been:
- Made redundant due to age or disability refused housing because of their race
- Treated differently because of pregnancy, maternity, religious views, or sexual orientation
The EHRC champions equality and human rights for all, working to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights, and build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to participate in society.
The EASS now handles individual enquiries, but the EHRC website provides comprehensive information about people’s rights on a wide variety of topics – e.g., employment, adjustments for disabled people, housing, travel, voting, harassment, and the protected characteristics. It also provides guidance for the private and public sectors – e.g., dealing with best practices, discrimination and managing workers.
British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR)
The BIHR is an organisation that is committed to developing a society that is stronger because people are valued equally, can participate fully, and are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. They do this by:
- Providing information and other resources
- Developing and delivering training and consultancy for the voluntary, community and public sectors
- Running pilot projects across voluntary, community and public sectors doing research and policy analysis
- Lobbying government and conducting media activity
The BIHR does not provide human rights advice to individuals (they recommend organisations such as the EASS, Liberty and Citizens Advice). Potential users in a community will normally be those who want access to information, training and the other services listed above.
Citizens Advice Service
Citizens Advice are fully committed to stand up and speak up for those who face inequality and disadvantage. They have a Stand up for Equality strategy which sets out their commitment to challenge discrimination, promote equality and value diversity. Potential users will be individuals who require free, independent, confidential, and impartial advice about their rights and responsibilities. Advice is available in over 3,300 community locations in England and Wales.
Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
Acas is devoted to preventing and resolving employment disputes. It has a wide
range of advice and guidance on its website that can be useful within the community, especially with employment issues and rights. Potential users will be employees and employers in the community who need information, help and advice about employment matters.
Equally Ours is a charity that is committed to equal opportunities, social justice, good community relations, respect for human rights and an end to discrimination based on age, disability, sex and gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. The members include organisations such as: the Citizens Advice Service, Age UK, MIND, RNIB, Stonewall and Disability Rights UK. The charity provides resources and information about events that are run on equality and diversity. The events are run by the members and others, and they take place around the UK, covering a wide variety of topics – e.g., diversity in science, discrimination law updates, a practical introduction to human rights.
Mencap is the voice of learning disability. Their focus is on valuing and supporting people with a learning disability and their families and carers, and on lobbying government to change laws and policy.
Potential users could include people:
- With learning disabilities who need help to find jobs, homes, or places at college, or to be part of their local communities
- Needing advice about respite care, finance, or transport
- Who need residential and day care services
The Mental Health Foundation
The Mental Health Foundation takes an integrated approach to mental health
and mental illness. They believe that social or biological factors are crucial in understanding mental health, and they work to reduce stigma and discrimination, and to raise awareness of mental health issues. Their work is based on research and practical evaluation rather than hands-on support for service users and carers.
Potential users can contact this organisation when they need access to research or reports.
Stonewall is renowned for its campaigning and lobbying, and it works to achieve equality and justice for all lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people. They carry out research, policy development and lobby for legal and institutional change. They provide information and offer advice and help organisations to design good practice – e.g., on employment, anti-bullying strategies or pension provision.
Potential users are likely to be gay men, lesbians, transgender or bisexual people, or others who need more information about the LGBT community. Stonewall’s support services include publications on health or bullying; access to their education programmes for schools, youth groups and other groups; an information service for individuals, organisations, and employers; events that include community bar and theatre nights; access to arrange a speaker.
Age UK is the UK’s largest charity working with and for older people. They aim to improve later life for everyone through their information and advice, campaigns, products, training, and research. On a practical level, they can help communities to run transport services, social activities, lunch clubs, day trips and so on.
Potential users can be older people, carers, or organisers. Age UK can help with every aspect of life, for example: benefit claims and money management; care and support options at home or in residential care; housing issues and maintaining independence; mobility and hearing aids; maintaining health and dementia support; loneliness and their befriending service.
Disability Rights UK
Run by disabled people, this organisation is focused on leading change, and working to create a society where everyone with experience of disability or health conditions can participate equally as full citizens.
Potential users can approach this charity to access: benefits information; support on careers and education; consultancy for organisations in the private, voluntary, and public sectors; telephone and email helplines; information about independent living; leadership skills programme for disabled people; factsheets, links to organisations and training courses.
Liberty (also called the National Council for Civil Liberties)
Liberty promotes human rights by campaigning, taking test cases in court, lobbying, and offering a wide range of advice about rights.
Potential users might approach this organisation for information about human rights and civil liberties, especially if the theme is the same as one of Liberty’s campaigns. In some cases where Liberty has an interest and some expertise, legal assistance may be provided.
Support for people who use the Internet is changing all the time, especially as ‘cyber- stalking’ is now a growing problem. Stalking and harassment have always existed but this persistent, frequent, and unwanted contact from other people is widespread on the Internet. Support services that online communities can approach include, for example:
- Their Internet provider
- Government-backed agency www.getsafeonline.org
Potential users could be adults or children who are experiencing, or who know about, abuse, harassment, or discrimination online, especially members of school communities.
Local support groups
Each part of the country has various charities and support groups that specialise issues. The internet is an invaluable tool when looking for community support, and it is very simple to find groups through search engines. Information can also be found via local councils, libraries, health centres and volunteer organisations.
There are problems that can threaten equality and diversity within communities. These can lead to the breakdown of communities, making people feel separate, alone, excluded, unimportant and disconnected. Various events, especially terrorist attacks, have shown that there is alienation within communities.
There are several problems that can threaten equality and diversity, including:
Prejudice and labelling
As we have already seen, prejudice and labelling can be threats to equality and diversity. For example, groups of young people on street corners can be the target for prejudice and labelling. Some people will assume that they are committing or planning antisocial behaviour and will treat them unfairly as a result.
Intolerance and hate crime
When intolerance turns from thoughts to actions, a hate crime occurs. This is when someone attacks another person verbally, via mail or email, or perhaps physically, and the crime is driven by the attacker’s prejudice against a particular group of people.
Hate crimes can be triggered by prejudice against many identities and differences, for example:
- Racism – when a person commits a crime against someone because of the colour of their skin, their ethnic background, their accent, or use of a foreign language
- homophobia – when someone is victimised due to their sexuality because they are, or the attacker thinks they are, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
When a few members of a community hold extremist views and put them into practice, they can have a big impact on most of the people around them. Extremists can have strong views and follow practices that are not compatible with the views of most of the community. Extremists threaten the equality and diversity of their community by alienating the vast majority who do not accept and follow the same extreme views and beliefs.
Extremist behaviour can be seen in, for example:
- Certain religious groups who practise a very particular and strict form of their religion, often alienating most of the mainstream followers of the same religion
- Political groups such as the right wing British National Party (BNP) who have extreme views on crime, punishment, benefits, immigration, and asylum-seekers
- Gangs, especially in cities, who operate outside the law controlling the supply and distribution of illegal drugs, running protection rackets and so on
When a community has insufficient resources, this can cause unrest, inequality, and a lack of tolerance of diversity. This can lead to tension between groups who are treated unequally, or who are perceived to be treated differently. Inadequate resources could occur in, for example:
- Housing – e.g., an inadequate number of council houses in a community can led to tension between groups when the housing is allocated according to needs that may seem unfair
- Education – e.g., not having enough support and resources for those with special needs, leading to lack of equal opportunity for some members of the community
- Healthcare – e.g., where facilities are overstretched, and some people feel disadvantaged if they cannot get the appointments and treatment that they need and want fast enough
Lack of employment opportunities
When a community generally has fewer opportunities for employment, there can be a lack of equality between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Restricted opportunities may also lead to a lack of diversity, within the types of jobs on offer or the types of suitable candidates. For example, if a car company sets up a new production factory in an area of high unemployment, the available jobs may only be suitable for able- bodied people with engineering experience and not people with impairments who need different jobs.
Lack of employment opportunity in a community can affect the general level of income in the area. It can also affect morale and even lead to an increase in crime rates.