Last week the Equality Trust released a report which highlighted the growing gap between rich and poor in our society.
Within days, Oxfam had issued its own statement – a ‘Tale of Two Britains’. It highlighted the fact that the wealth of the 5 richest UK families is not greater than that of the 12 million poorest Britons put together – and that the wealthy elite’s income is growing four times faster than that of others.
It was against this background, that the Birmingham Declaration on Social Inclusion was launched – and that Leeds Labour Council signed up to it.
By signing, Leeds Council has joined the National Social Exclusion Network – committed to tackling this cancer which is eating away at the fabric of our society.
The formation of the National Social Inclusion Network – and the Declaration itself – came out of the National Social Inclusion Symposium held in September 2013. It was hosted by Birmingham City Council’s Leader, Cllr Sir Albert Bore, and The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, and funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.
The Declaration states that, against a backdrop of public sector cuts, the task of creating more inclusive cities has moved beyond what local or national government can do on their own – and that there is an urgent need to co-operate and rally resources and expertise.
In Leeds, the council has for some time been re-focusing its services and working with partner organisations to tackle poverty and create job opportunities.
People needing help in the city have a strong network of support available to them. Council staff and partners are able either directly to help, or to refer people for advice, on issues such as job training, benefits and how to get low-cost help with debt from organisations such as credit unions rather than resorting to payday lenders.
Recent partnerships have also been set up between Leeds City Council and both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the Young Foundation, both of which have strong histories in tackling inequality.
Last month Leeds Council and JRF launched the More Jobs, Better Jobs partnership. It aims to make sure that policy thinking and practical work out in communities are linked together and influence each other. The Council is also working with the Young Foundation on social sustainability and reducing health inequalities.
Signing the Birmingham Declaration is just the next step in attempts to work with others to resolve the problems of social inclusion in our increasingly unequal society.
It means that Leeds has agreed to:
• Be part of the National Social Inclusion Network;
• Share learning and develop joint campaigning on key issues around social inclusion;
• Build a strong collective voice to articulate the arguments for social inclusion for all our communities across the country;
• Identify action that can be taken around issues of shared concern.
The other authorities that have signed up are Barrow-in-Furness, Birmingham, Bristol, Islington, Knowsley, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Tower Hamlets.
The network’s activities will be focused on eight themes. These were identified from the reports produced by fairness and poverty commissions from around the country, and were developed at the symposium.
– living wage and income inequality;
– impact of welfare reform;
– fuel, finance and food;
– education and skills;
– youth employment;
– access and affordable transport;
– democratic accountability
Cllr John Cotton, Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for social cohesion and equalities, said:
“I entered politics to help people and I’m proud to say that this declaration represents a very real commitment to improving the lives of millions of people across the country. Even as we face up to unprecedented cuts, the councils signing up to the declaration are demonstrating a united commitment to those people who feel they have been marginalised for too long.
“It’s clear that we’re all facing similar challenges. Looking across the various fairness commission reports and frameworks that have been developed it is also clear that we all share a common determination to address deep-rooted issues of inequality and disadvantage and to deliver the changes needed.”
The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, said:
“The strength of the Birmingham Social Inclusion Process which I have been chairing for the past two years is that it has not been simply about defining the problem, but instead, building a movement to drive forward the solutions that are needed to address the significant disadvantage that exists in our city. This is not just the responsibility of a few policy-makers but rather the opportunity for everyone to play their part as life-changers and hope-givers in the places they call home.
“Creating a national movement is another step in the process. The National Social Inclusion Network will provide an opportunity to bring together our experience and expertise, learn from each other and combine our efforts to build a strong collective voice to articulate the arguments for social inclusion for all our communities across the country.”
Here in Leeds, in the face of 30% LibDem/Tory cuts to its budget, the Labour Council has made the vulnerable and the young its high priorities.
Signing this declaration is one more indication of its determination to help the poorest and weakest in our society – in spite of Coalition cuts.
Councillor Keith Wakefield, Leader of Leeds City Council, said:
“These are incredibly challenging times and our greatest priority is to ensure that those most vulnerable do not get left behind. This can only be achieved by everyone working together to give people strong support along with the opportunity to challenge their circumstances and make better lives for themselves.
“We are doing this against the backdrop of greatly reduced budgets and we have to develop new ways of working with partners and the community to make sure we make the most of our combined resources to deliver the best possible outcomes for our citizens.”
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