Conference presentation

Engaging with public services in a disadvantaged neighbourhood

British Sociological Association annual conference—Recovering the Social: Personal Troubles and Public Issues
University of Manchester
April 4, 2017


The relationship between public services and those whom they serve has huge capacity to affect the way in which social change occurs and the efficacy of policy interventions. Born originally in a desire to better understand marked inequalities in the way that accidental fire is distributed through society, and conceptualising this as an inequality in the delivery of fire prevention interventions, my research explores the relationship between people living in one disadvantaged neighbourhood in the West Midlands and the public services that they use, or do not use. I uncover a range of barriers that serve to discourage many living in the area from accessing or engaging with services. These barriers include disillusionment, a sense of feeling judged, a fear of adverse consequences and a lack of awareness of the services available.

Building on these findings I highlight ways in which access to public services may be restricted by the taken-for-granted assumptions of service providers, thus perpetuating social inequalities. I argue that a necessary, although not necessarily sufficient, prerequisite for effective dialogue between services and those that they serve is the existence of space for dialogue which is perceived as being safe. In an area characterised by multiple, heterogeneous communities, many different spaces will be needed to ensure dialogue with the widest range of people. There are implications for the organisation and delivery of public services, and for the way in which multiple agencies interrelate and cooperate.