Conference presentation

Fire, Inequality and Community Engagement

9th ENQUIRE Conference—Inequalities and Social Research
Univsersity of Nottingham
February 25, 2017


Fire is not distributed evenly through society. Through an extensive, quantitative investigation of the distribution of accidental dwelling fires in the West Midlands I highlight considerable inequality in the way in which accidental fires in the home are distributed, with economic status, ethnic make-up and household structure in an area all being predictive of rates of fire. Could the relationship between public services and the communities that they serve be contributing to this?

Conceptualising the inequality as an inequality in the delivery of fire prevention work, I focused in on one socially disadvantaged area with high rates of fire. I used an intensive, interpretivist approach to explore perceptions of, and attitudes towards, public services, and whether these hamper the ability to deliver effective fire prevention initiatives. The Fire Service, and particularly its prevention work, was found to be rarely thought about directly, with fire not perceived as a priority. However, the Fire Service was often associated with other services in people’s minds, and I uncovered a number of factors that discouraged people from interacting with public services in general. These 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 argue that a necessary, although not necessarily sufficient, prerequisite for effective dialogue between public services and those 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 the way in which multiple agencies interrelate. The work both updates knowledge of inequality in the distribution of fire and contributes to understanding of the way in which access to public services can be restricted by the taken-for-granted assumptions of service providers.