But local authorities are right to be concerned that participation exercises may be capturing the views of dominant but unrepresentative groups. Consumers on low incomes and other disadvantaged groups are often stereotyped as "hard to reach". But this is not true. Such groups are simply "hard to hear".
National Consumer Council research has found that those on low incomes are more likely to think that getting involved is a waste of time than consumers who are better off. And this view was shared by younger people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. The remedy lies in a positive approach that tackles the needs of disadvantaged groups by actively encouraging their involvement and making sure that their interests are equally represented alongside those of other groups. Local authorities must be prepared to involve people on their own terms and convince people that their participation is wanted and valued.
Effective and appropriate consumer involvement of this sort is essential for building consumer confidence, improving service efficiency and enhancing the quality of decision-making.
Gill Bull, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs
National Consumer Council, London SW1W 0DH
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Disadvantaged consumers must also be listened to
By Gill Bull
Financial Times; Dec 24, 2002