Exploration of NPM to discern its stance on social justice offers contrasting perspectives. Social justice may be thought largely absent from NPM thinking. If and where its signs appear, these are rare occurrences, like a comet's passing, intriguing but transitory. Alternatively, social justice may be felt capable of delivery only where public provision is demonstrably efficient and users' voices heard. Thus, social justice is a star in the NPM firmament, set to shine more brightly as NPM tenets take increased hold. This chapter explores the extent to which social justice and equity concerns and outcomes are present or absent in NPM thinking and practice. It is underpinned by the assumption that the social justice record of NPM deserves scrutiny.
The chapter commences with a consideration of what is understood here by NPM, and how notions of social justice and equity may be defined. It continues by consideration of the cases which may be made for the polar opposite perceptions of NPM in relation to the promotion and achievement of social justice. First, that NPM's efficiency preoccupation and combined characteristics preclude an equity focus; leaving wider social justice concerns beyond its remit. Second, that NPM's characteristics include and may even secure improved equity in public provision, making it a key factor in reaching social justice goals. For both these cases, examples are drawn predominantly from health, and to a lesser extent from prison and local government (especially urban) services, and these mainly in UK contexts. The chapter goes on to reflect on the balance of the arguments made, and declares as 'non-proven' the charge that NPM has been eliminating social justice objectives in public policy. It suggests that equity 'guardians' in NPM contexts are more likely to found in shifting coalitions, as public services simultaneously or variously fragment and are 'joined up', rather than in a single coherent group, such as elected representatives or public service professionals. It examines some theoretical and service contextual implications for juxtaposing equity and efficiency as NPM goals. Finally, it highlights a need for increased knowledge concerning new public managers' working values, and the place of social justice and equity concerns within those values.