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Economic Justice

Launching the Economic Justice Action Network

Individuals and communities in Birmingham are coalescing around the theme of economic justice and seeking to build a local economy that truly serves the people says Anna Garlands of Huddlecraft – the Network’s facilitator – in this cross-posted blog.

As summer drew to a close this year, a group of bold and curious individuals came together in a room in Birmingham to participate in a “Kick Off” session for the Economic Justice Action Network. This Network, initiated and curated by Barrow Cadbury Trust and facilitated by Huddlecraft, seeks to tackle the root causes of economic injustice in Birmingham and beyond, pulling focus on the systems that perpetuate and amplify inequality within the city. The room was packed out with folks with varying associations with the theme of economic justice, all eager for meaningful change, all ready for action and all keen to learn more about how the Action Network could facilitate the systemic shifts we want and need to see.

When we talk about economic justice within this space, we are referring to a sense of economic fairness. Everyone having enough money to live. Everyone having access to the essentials of life: clean air, good public services, suitable housing, positive health care experiences, access to green spaces and, ultimately, equal life chances. Economic justice is about changing our social and economic structures so that people aren’t disadvantaged by their position in society, for example gender, ethnicity, class or disability. Economic justice is ensuring that the decisions that are made by those with power and the money that is generated in Birmingham, benefit everyone, not just those with power. It is about protecting the environment for future generations and it is halting the trend of the growing gap between rich and poor.

The Action Network has emerged because we recognise that the way Birmingham’s economy is structured does not deliver economic justice. There are areas of persistent poverty, wide disparities between the most and least affluent sections of the population and, as in other areas, structural racism, sexism and other–isms prevent many people attaining a decent standard of living and others being ill-rewarded for the work they do. Statutory agencies recognise the long-standing problems of economic exclusion and their strategies reflect a desire for change. However, things are not moving far or fast enough, and new solutions are needed.

Because we are all part of the economy, we should have a say in how it works and be able to challenge those in power on their economic choices and values. But what do we actually mean when we talk about ‘the economy’?

In his presentation at the Kick Off event, Joe Earle from People’s Economy shared that the economy is a relatively modern invention. It gives value to items that fit into the gross domestic product (GDP) framework — a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period by a country or countries. Within this GDP framework, much essential work is ignored, for example unpaid care work, key workers and ‘low skilled’ workers. GDP also fails to provide a good measure of health, wellbeing or justice. It is crucial that we broaden our view and consider the economy as a system. It is about resources; money, buildings, land, food, energy, people’s time, it is about how they are used for different purposes, and how decisions about distribution of those resources are made.

It is also crucial for us to consider interconnected economic systems at different scales. How and where is the Birmingham economy impacted by broader UK economic systems? How do global economic systems affect the UK? We need to understand and examine how Birmingham’s economic system is shaped by government and corporate decisions, as well as by cultures and behaviours formed and developed outside of the city.

Birmingham’s economic system is like an iceberg. The unjust outcomes are visible but much of how the system operates and the conditions that uphold it, are hidden below the surface. In order to create the change we want to see, we first need to understand the system to explain why the system operates in a particular way and then develop interventions which can bring about change.

When thinking about the entrenched power and ideas which uphold Birmingham’s economic system, working for change can feel like a daunting and unlikely prospect. The good news is that systems are not static, they are changing all the time, and there are already many people doing important work to change our economic systems in all sorts of ways. We want to amplify and build upon this work.

The Action Network is a place for alliance-building, learning, developing ideas for change and action.

The Action Network is folk coming together to build a shared, working understanding of the economy - learning about how the current system perpetuates inequality; how adopting an intersectionality lens can widen our approach; how alternative economic models and systems can be imagined and implemented in Birmingham. The Action Network is people coming together to dissect, examine and map out the existing economic landscape in the city, identifying and engaging levers of change. The Action Network is seeding and cultivating an interconnected web of citizens, grassroots activists, change-makers and disruptors from across the city, all sharing a common view that change is possible and the need is urgent.

We recognise that no single sector  -  the public sector, private business or civil society  –  can change things alone, but that we need to work together, harnessing the ideas, experience and energy of individuals and organisations to make Birmingham a city that works for everyone.

The Action Network is open to anyone with an interest in making our economy work better for local people. What you will have in common is:

  • a willingness to have conversations and work with a variety of people who you otherwise may never encounter;
  • an energy and excitement for learning about the economy and how we can imagine design fairer, regenerative and distributive economic systems;
  • an appetite for action and creating change within the spheres you are affiliated with;
  • the ability to attend Action Network meetings every other month, where possible.

We have been delighted to see so many people from a broad range of sectors and backgrounds attend the Taster event (July) and the Kick Off meeting (August). There is clearly an appetite for spaces to connect, learn and explore these issues and we will be welcoming new members throughout the coming six months.

The next meeting will be taking place on Wednesday 4 October and we would be delighted to see you there. Refreshments and lunch will be provided. Please sign up via this link if you would like to join.