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Policies for 'mixed communities': a critical evaluation

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This paper challenges the belief that mixed community policies can effectively tackle poverty or reduce income inequality, on the basis that residential segregation is essentially a consequence not a cause of income inequality. The ideal of mixed communities as a mechanism for achieving social equality is firmly established in policy. However, to show that mixed neighbourhoods can reduce poverty or improve individuals’ life chances, requires evidence that living in a deprived neighbourhood makes residents (and their children) materially worse off than they would otherwise have been over the long run, by restricting residents’ capacity to develop their talents, networks and employability, and thus increasing the risks of them becoming, or staying, poor. In fact, though, the research evidence suggests that an individual’s characteristics, economic outcomes and life chances are very insensitive to the neighbourhood in which they live. Neighbourhood characteristics are symptoms not causes of individual poverty. Planning for a more even residential mix of rich, poor and the middle mass could reduce measured spatial income disparities to some degree, but this would be merely a concealment of the underlying problem. It is also likely to cost substantial resources to maintain. Relieving poverty effectively means tackling the factors which make people poor – at an individual and family level - not moving poor people to more affluent neighbourhoods, or leavening poor neighbourhoods with more affluent residents.

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