What does it mean to be disadvantaged? Is it possible to compare different disadvantages? What should governments do to move their societies in the direction of equality, where equality is to be understood both in distributional and social terms? Linking analytical philosophical theory with broad empirical studies, including interviews conducted for the purpose of this book, it is shown how taking theory and practice together is essential if the theory is to be rich enough to be applied to the real world, and policy systematic enough to have purpose and justification.
The book is divided into three parts:
- Part 1 presents a pluralist analysis of disadvantage, modifying the capability theory of Sen and Nussbaum to produce the ‘genuine opportunity for secure functioning’ view. This emphasizes risk and insecurity as a central component of disadvantage.
- Part 2 shows how to identify the least advantaged in society even on a pluralist view. It is suggested that disadvantage ‘clusters’ in the sense that some people are disadvantaged in several different respects. Thus, it is not necessary to solve the problem of how to weigh different categories of disadvantage against each other in order to identify the least advantaged. Conversely, a society which has ‘declustered disadvantaged’ — in the sense that no group lacks secure functioning on a range of functionings — has made considerable progress in the direction of equality.
- Part 3 explores how to decluster disadvantage, by paying special attention to ‘corrosive disadvantages’ — those disadvantages that cause further disadvantages, and ‘fertile functionings’ — those which are likely to secure other functionings.
Will Snell, Chief Executive, Fairness Foundation
- Look for common ground between different philosophical theories that lead to the same real-world policy prescriptions (around tackling the plight of the most disadvantaged first)
- Don’t need to choose between material/distributional and social egalitarianism - need both
- Disadvantage is plural - money but also power and other social aspects - and ‘goods’ are not just material goods, are also social goods eg friendship, power, influence, social capital
- Policies that ignore the most severely disadvantaged because they are too difficult or expensive to help are wrong-headed and counterproductive
- Plural disadvantage - capabilities for functionings, including sustaining them (so risk and vulnerability are also disadvantages, people need genuine opportunities for secure functionings, and lack of this equals disadvantage)
- If disadvantage is plural, can’t and don’t need to work out which (lack of) functioning is most important because disadvantages and risks tend to cluster and compound each other (some risks are self-contained; some are ‘corrosive’ as they make others worse; in other cases, people proactively trade off risks by making one worse in order to mitigate another)
- “One central way of being disadvantaged is when one’s functionings are or become insecure involuntarily, or when, in order to secure certain functionings, one is forced to make other functionings insecure, in a way that other people do not have to do.”
- Equal (or fair?) society is one in which disadvantages do not cluster (and so it is not clear who is worst off); to achieve it, need to work out how patterns of disadvantage form and persist, and then break them up, looking for ‘corrosive disadvantages’ that lead to further disadvantages, and also for ‘fertile functionings’ which create a virtuous cycle.
- Life – Able to live to the end of a normal length human life, and to not have one’s life reduced to not worth living.
- Bodily Health – Able to have a good life which includes (but is not limited to) reproductive health, nourishment and shelter.
- Bodily Integrity – Able to change locations freely, in addition to, having sovereignty over one’s body which includes being secure against assault (for example, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and the opportunity for sexual satisfaction).
- Senses, Imagination and Thought – Able to use one’s senses to imagine, think and reason in a ‘truly human way’–informed by an adequate education. Furthermore, the ability to produce self-expressive works and engage in religious rituals without fear of political ramifications. The ability to have pleasurable experiences and avoid unnecessary pain. Finally, the ability to seek the meaning of life.
- Emotions – Able to have attachments to things outside of ourselves; this includes being able to love others, grieve at the loss of loved ones and be angry when it is justified.
- Practical Reason – Able to form a conception of the good and critically reflect on it.
- Able to live with and show concern for others, empathize with (and show compassion for) others and the capability of justice and friendship. Institutions help develop and protect forms of affiliation.
- Able to have self-respect and not be humiliated by others, that is, being treated with dignity and equal worth. This entails (at the very least) protections of being discriminated on the basis of race, sex, sexuality, religion, caste, ethnicity and nationality. In work, this means entering relationships of mutual recognition.
- Other Species – Able to have concern for and live with other animals, plants and the environment at large.
- Play – Able to laugh, play and enjoy recreational activities.
- Control over One’s Environment
- Political – Able to effectively participate in the political life which includes having the right to free speech and association.
- Material – Able to own property, not just formally, but materially (that is, as a real opportunity). Furthermore, having the ability to seek employment on an equal basis as others, and the freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.
- Doing good to others - Being able to care for others and show gratitude.
- Living in a law-abiding fashion - Being able to live within the law, not being forced to break the law, cheat or deceive.
- Understanding the law - Being able to understand the legal system, its demands, and the opportunities it offers people.