The 'representativeness' of councillors

Alice Brown, Amy Jones and Fiona Mackay

Why are the majority of councillors still white, male and middle-aged? Why is it so difficult for women, young people, people with full-time jobs, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled people to get involved, and stay involved, in local government?

Broad agreement exists that the make-up of councils needs to reflect today's society more closely. However, practical policies to open up opportunities for participation have been slower to develop.

This report reviews the case for reform and raises questions about what can be done to improve the social composition of councils. It describes some of the processes that discourage or exclude certain people from becoming, and remaining, councillors - including the working of political systems, recruitment and selection procedures, social norms and expectations, and local government cultures and practices. In addition, it draws upon wide-ranging research in Britain and elsewhere to suggest what difference a more socially representative system might make. Finally, options for reform are described in detail.

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