If Social Justice™ were a breed of cat…

Social Justice in the Liberal State
Not a radio button. Image via Wikipedia

Oh, here’s a hideous survey. It invites you to tell the DWP what you think about Social Justice – the capital letters are clearly important. On the second (final) page of the survey you can opt in to hear more about Social Justice, although they’ve missed off the box where you can opt out from being not refrained from not being uncontacted by our carefully selected third-party partners with offers that we believe will be of interest to you.

Here are a few of the problems:

  • Basic point, but a survey isn’t going to tell you much about public or expert opinion on something as fuzzy as “Social Justice”. If you want public views, run a focus group. If you want expert views, ask experts.
  • The key question “what does Social Justice mean to you” is a teeny-tiny free text entry box.
  • The key question is not a compulsory question, though the region where you work is.
  • The survey also asks “what do you think Social Justice means to the Government?” to which the only answers are either a political rant of one kind or another, or “Dunno”.
  • The second page of the survey has another teeny-tiny text box question, also not compulsory, which is “what do you think the Government is doing about families with multiple disadvantages?”. This question is clearly connected in some policy official’s mind with Social Justice – in fact, my wonkdar suggests that this is what the Government means by Social Justice – but to most people answering the survey, it’s a curveball. And what, in any case, is the Government “doing”? Presumably the question is intended to exclude “running the NHS, the police, the benefits system, and funding large chunk of local authority work”.
  • The next question is “how effective is the Government’s approach to dealing with individuals and families with multiple disadvantages?”, and the answer is – I’m laughing as I type this – a radio box with options running from “Very effective” to “Very Ineffective” via “Neither effective nor ineffective”. Fortunately there’s an “I don’t know” option, though not one for “I can’t sum up a huge range of interlocking and often conflicting Government initiatives of which I have only partial knowledge using a radio button, at least not if you’re looking for any input that might be regarded as even slightly useful rather than just a random neural firing”.

What’s perhaps worst about this survey is that it doesn’t feel like DWP are looking for consultation cover for a decision they’ve already reached. They seem to want – tragically –  to get some external input into this fuzzy discussion. They’ve just chosen completely the wrong way of doing it.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.