As new reports highlight the increasing inequality in the UK economy; cities, towns and boroughs across the country have united to tackle issues of social exclusion in a new national network set up by the Leader of Birmingham City Council and the Bishop of Birmingham, in the process signing the Birmingham declaration on social inclusion.
While in recent months economic stati stics seem to be indicating a more positive outlook for the UK economy, it is clear that a significant proportion of our population are still not feeling the benefit of this improvement. Only yesterday the Equality Trust released a report highlighting that the gap between rich and poor was rising and that inequality was costing the country £39bn a year. Figures from Oxfam also released yesterday highlighted that the five richest families in the UK are wealthier than the bottom 20% of the entire population and the gap between the rich and the rest has grown significantly over the last two decades.
Continuing and increasing inequality has the potential to have a long term damaging effect on our population, impacting on a wide spectrum of social outcome. Duncan Exley from the Equality Trust highlighted it perfectly when he said yesterday “We know that inequality is a major cause of social problems from crime, to poor health to low educational performance, and that it is psychologically scarring, reducing trust in strangers and isolating individuals”.
Local authorities in towns and cities across the country are grappling with these issues every day, however the challenge of dealing with social exclusion has been made more difficult given the reduction in resources that organisations have at their disposal.
Led by the Bishop of Birmingham, Birmingham’s Social Inclusion Process has over the past two years been trying to develop ways of dealing with social exclusion in the city. The process quickly identified that the task of creating more inclusive cities has moved beyond what local or national government can do on their own, and that there was a need to build a network of local authorities to work together, share knowledge and understanding, as well as establishing a collective voice to challenge the Government to bring about changes we want to see from them that will make dealing with these issues easier on the ground.
This resulted in the first National Social Inclusion Symposium being held 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, in September 2013. At this event 15 local authorities from across the country agreed to establish the National Social Inclusion Network and to sign the declaration as indication of their commitment.
By signing the declaration, participating authorities have 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 authorities that have signed the declaration are Barrow-in-Furness, Birmingham, Bristol, Islington, Knowsley, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Tower Hamlets.
The work of the network starts now. We are already sharing ideas of best practice from successful Birmingham programmes such as the fair money manifesto, places of welcome initiative and the Birmingham Jobs fund; and we are learning about other projects from across the country.
Over the next few months we will continue to work together in variety of ways across the network with the common determination of addressing deep-rooted issues of inequality and disadvantage and to deliver the changes needed.