The Carnegie UK Trust’s work on the Enabling State identifies an important risk that the move towards a more participatory, localised political decision making system may in fact further increase inequalities, ‘with society further divided so that those with ‘fat wallets and sharp elbows’ are better able to protect themselves, their families and their communities’.
Wallace argues that an enabling state ‘would seek to reduce rather than exacerbate inequalities. An enabling state must be effective in recognising and responding to differences in community and individual capacity so that inequalities are reduced and no community is left behind’.
Reflecting on ‘the Big Society’, Schmueker asks ‘whether existing socio-economic inequalities will affect the ability of individuals and communities to engage in social action, volunteering and local democratic engagement’. She outlines four fairness tests that should be applied to the Big Society, which also prove useful for thinking about more localised decision making processes:
· Access to resources: do all communities and individuals have access to the resources required to participate?
· Losers: are some neighbourhoods or groups being left behind?
· Power distribution: are power and the sense of efficacy more widely dispersed amongst citizens as a result of big society initiatives, or are existing inequalities reinforced?
· Accountability: Are there clear lines of accountability for Big Society initiatives, particularly when things go wrong?