If We Want an Inclusive Society, Let’s Stop Defining People by What They Don’t Have

Sam Alexander of Your Consortium talks about the benefits of social inclusion and the need to stop defining people by what they don’t have if we want to increase productivity.


Every year at University, we’d have a tug of war. Each college’s team had four males and four females. In the three years I participated, I don’t think we ever had the strongest individuals. Our team won every year.

The colleges would put a lot of effort into choosing their male teammates. They looked for rugby players, wrestlers and martial artists. Some of them even had a strategy for how and when they’d pull. Most of them would round up some girls from the bar just before the event, hand them the rope and remind them not to get in the way.

My college had a different approach. We were a team of eight, not four. We picked our male and female counterparts with equal attention. We even had a 9th team member who’d keep us all in rhythm, to ensure our collective energy wasn’t wasted.

If only the other colleges had stopped choosing their teams with the same old stereotypes, maybe their efforts would have been a little more productive.

When talking about productivity, we tend to define people by what they don’t have, rather than what they do.

As I look ahead the next 10 years, I think the biggest risk to our collective progress is that we separate people and sectors into assets and liabilities in our thinking, language and policies.

For people, we talk about un-employed, dis-ability and low skilled. We turn them into a problem that needs fixing. For sectors we talk about low-value, low-paid and un-productive.

Words have power and sometimes this kind of deficit thinking and language can actually exacerbate the problems they describe.

So far, the benefits of economic activity are not being universally felt by all groups in our society.

If this trajectory continues, 2027 could see greater divides between people; groups and sectors who are seen to be part of the solution and those who are seen to be the problem.

As these categories tend to be self-reinforcing, it’s possible that by 2027 there will be deeper and more embedded challenges that are harder to overcome. This may combine with numerical growth in so-called “low productivity” sectors like social care and changes to EU migration due to Brexit. This could mean we experience a dual problem; economically inactive people and groups, combined with unfilled vacancies in sectors that care for the most vulnerable.

Economic growth needs to be inclusive if it is to be sustained over the long term.

The great opportunity we have now is to create a future where all individuals, groups and sectors are defined by what is best about them. By their potential to contribute to both our economy and society. We have the chance to seek to understand the environment that will facilitate this contribution and work together to build it.

My vision for 2027 is to live and work in a LEP area where inclusion comes as standard and diversity is highly valued. The year 2027, like today, will see our LEP area comprised of a diverse range of businesses, sectors and people making different – yet valuable – contributions to our economy and society.

Properly harnessed and coordinated, we can ensure that all sectors and people are making the maximum contribution they are able and this contribution is valued and celebrated. We will harness the energy, innovation and new ideas of the next wave of young people joining the workforce and create a living and working environment that makes them want to stay. We will support thousands of people from the “untapped workforce” to develop confidence, skills and overcome barriers that have previously made work impossible.

Our challenge in 2027 will be to recognise that not all value can be measured in pounds and not all skills result in the achievement of high-level qualifications.

Though these metrics of growth and progress remain important, it is also essential for us to recognise that the quality of service, care and support are what define our experience of living and working in our area. Not only will this approach ensure that the benefits of economic activity are felt more widely, but I believe that with over 1.14m people and 48,000 businesses pulling in the same direction, we will experience even greater success.

So, let’s stop defining people and sectors by what they don’t have and celebrate the varied and valuable contributions that each of them bring.

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