Social justice is a broad idea that embraces a number of concepts including equality, solidarity, morality, opportunity, fairness, justice and so many others. What it all seems to boil down to, of course, is recognizing that all people are equal and society must offer equal opportunities and rights without regard to income, ethnicity, race of any other quality or feature. Everyone operates on an equal basis.
It’s obvious how you can try to create a level playing field through laws and court systems. What happens outside the court rooms is the real determinant of social justice though. For example, in Great Britain, experts say that air pollution shortens approximately 200,000 lives while contributing to 50,000 deaths annually. The worst air pollution is in London. Is there social justice when people are forced to breathe air that can shorten their lifespan?
The environmental issues involve much more than simply clean air and water. They are an integral component of social justice. For example, public transportation that is fuel efficient and does not pollute the air benefits everyone from poor to rich. If social justice is equality then environmental causes can help achieve that equality. You cannot separate social justice from the lives people are forced to live outside of the legal system. A single bus can eliminate as many as 50 cars from the road, thus lowering pollution levels and making all the air more breathable for people without regard to income.
Income level and social justice are closely tied together too. Low income people cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables and tend to buy unhealthy processed canned food filled with sodium. Is it social justice for people to be denied access to healthy food because of income limitations? The same is true of health care. Though a national health system provides services without regard to income, the reality is that those who can’t pay for quick service are faced with months of waiting for things like surgery while the wealthy can move to the front of the line as private payers.
The point is that social justice is more than law. It is also about access to essential services, helping people out of poverty, cleaning the air and the water, making healthy foods as (or more) affordable as unhealthy ones, providing quality education without regard to where the school is located. You cannot look at social justice in a vacuum which is what government often seems to do. That, in my opinion, gets to the very foundation of the recent UK riots – why so many unexpected people joined in and why the government was taken by surprise.