Do we need to treat people differently to provide equality?

Clenton Farquharson MBE, TLAP Chair, opens a conversation about equality, and equity, and asks if we need to treat people differently to provide equality of opportunity?

Let me start with some definitions so that we can all have a shared understanding of what I mean by equality and equity. Misunderstanding, and the meaning of words, can derail conversations about equality, especially when we are coming from different starting points.

It is important to me to note that being equal and fair are not always straightforward, and we all come with our own perspectives, because we all have different experiences. This is not to say that your perspective is wrong, and my perspective is right, but that they are both our version of the truth, based on our own lived experience.

What’s the difference between equality and equity?

Equality, to me, would be like providing everyone the same pair of running shoes, in the same size. Everyone gets the same, but it doesn’t consider their needs. This means some people get shoes that fit, and some people get ones too big or too small.

Equity would be providing shoes that fit each runner equally well, although the shoes may be different sizes or styles, but they meet the individual needs of each person. Equality is the right to an equal chance regardless of your race, gender, where you were born, or ability. But if we step back, we need to understand that to create equality of opportunity we need to provide equity and give people the same chances of getting to the start of the race to begin with.

Equality, treating everyone equally, in principle is good, but, in a world where systemic inequalities are rife, we need to treat people differently until we have eradicated the barriers that stop people achieving their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Equity means we are watchful of what we do - whilst equal opportunities legislation tells us what we must not to, it is morality that defines how we behave.

Equality, providing the same to everyone, means too little is provided to those who need it, and more than is needed to those who don’t, it further inflames inequality. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the impact that inequalities can have on a person’s outcomes as highlighted in the Health Foundations recent report “Unequal pandemic, fairer recovery (opens new window)”. We often see that the most resources go to the most educated, people who can navigate complex health and care systems, and understand entitlement and rights. The WHO recognises education to be a major social determinant of health  , and with inequality being a system wide issue, affecting births, schooling, as well as employment and health and social care, it’s clear a new approach is needed.For us as a society to move towards equality we need to understand that equal and fair are not always the same.

We all have different life experiences regarding inequality, and this means that despite our best intentions, our blind spots can bake in inequality to the systems and processes we design, which end up maintaining the status quo. The move from face-to-face events and meetings to everything online is a recent example of this. Unless people’s individual requirements are considered, people who are deaf are disadvantaged if they are not provided with the additional support such as BSL interpreters or captioning . This means they are unable to access itonline events in an equal manner.

The positive? If inequality is designed, it can be redesigned. How? By involving the most marginalised people in the decisions which affect their life. TLAP’s Making it Real framework, developed with people with lived experience of social care, is a great place to start having these conversations.

Equality is an emotive subject. We are talking about people’s lived experience, where people may have faced discrimination throughout their lives. For us as a society to move towards equality we need to understand that equal and fair are not always the same. Some people may need different treatment to provide equity of opportunity.

It is time for us to ask ourselves as leaders, organisations, and people – do we need to treat people differently to provide equality?

If you put yourself in someone else’s (running) shoes, what might you learn about their perspective?

Equality is a standing item for TLAP, and something we are interested in having an open dialogue on.


Posted on by Ann-Margaret Gale

Well said.

As a Social Care Provider, I couldn't agree more with you. Equality is for the masses and not the individual. As you say, we come in all shapes and sizes yet are expected to fit into the same cookie cutter.

Equality is a word that has many meanings, the same for all with subtle differences of understanding however, Equality in practice is flawed because it does not go far enough to recognise the differing needs of our services users of all shapes, sizes and colours, their environments, education, social and community needs, This is especially true for those from ethnic minorities like like myself.

Great strides have been made over the years in Social Care, which I recognise, but there is still a long bumpy road to travel.

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