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Barrow Cadbury Trust is very pleased to announce the appointment of Anna Fielding as the Learning Partner for our Economic Justice programme. Anna is a strategist, researcher and facilitator, with a specialism in economic systems change.

White person with cropped dark brown hair, wearing a black high necked top

She has 20 years’ experience of working for social, environmental and economic justice, across civil society, purpose-driven business, philanthropy and academia, and she has played an important role in the UK’s new economics sector for over a decade.

Anna has specialist training in evaluation and learning for complex systems change, which she combines with a commitment to equitable evaluation, participatory research methods, and critical pedagogy. She has designed and facilitated learning programmes for small and large non-profit organisations, social innovation initiatives and public sector partnerships, and she coaches individuals and teams to embed impact planning and assessment in their work. We are very pleased that she will be bringing all these skills to bear as we develop and deliver our economic justice work.

The Trust’s Economic Justice programme work is now focussed on Birmingham where the Trust has historic roots and where were already involved in place-based activity. The programme is being co-created with local Birmingham partners. Our intention is, over time, to create a movement of people from across Birmingham who, in different ways, wish to influence how Birmingham’s economy is structured and managed to increase economic justice.

We have recruited Huddlecraft as a facilitator of a growing action network and are in the process of recruiting a learning partner.

We are now looking to recruit a Communications Partner to work with us for the remainder of our current five-year strategic period (to end March 2027) to support participation and engagement, and share learning from the programme.

The programme is at an early stage but we have identified the need for a dedicated website and a communications strategy and plan detailing how to keep participants and others informed about and engaged with the work.

Communications Partner connection to Birmingham

We consider that an understanding of Birmingham and local connections is essential to the delivery of the brief. In addition, we want wherever possible for our programme spend to benefit Birmingham’s economy. We will therefore only consider applications from individuals or organisations based in Birmingham or the very immediate surrounds.

Application deadline: 17.00 on Monday 30 October
Shortlisting Monday 6 November
Interviews: Wednesday 15 November in Birmingham

Find out more about the Economic Justice programme and the Communications Partner role.

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.

Cross-party think tank Demos has published a new report on how to secure a ‘just transition’ to net zero in the Black Country.  The report, Net Zero to Level Up, is based on over 40 local and regional stakeholder interviews and meetings, reveals that the transition could leave 20% of the Black Country manufacturing workforce (12,000 jobs) long-term unemployed by 2032.

  • Manufacturing is a traditional strength of the Black Country’s local economy, where 14% of jobs are in the industry, compared to a national average of 8%.
  • Net Zero to Level Up comes in the wake of the government’s ‘trailblazer devolution deal’ which gave the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) enhanced powers to influence the region’s economy
  • The report predicts that if the new powers are used correctly, up to 20,000 net zero jobs could be created by 2032 in the Black Country, opening up new employment opportunities for residents, and that the 12,000 manufacturing jobs could be saved
  • The report sets out recommendations for how local and regional institutions should use their powers to secure a just transition, defending existing jobs and maximising the new opportunities of net zero
  • Recommendations include targeted support for vulnerable SMEs in manufacturing, and creating pathways for local residents to get the training they need to access new net zero jobs.

Demos has urged West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Mayor Andy Street to use the new powers in the recently-announced ‘trailblazer devolution deal’ to secure a just transition to net zero in the Black Country – defending existing jobs in manufacturing and maximising new employment opportunities connected to net zero.
According to Demos’s research, a significant number of small businesses in manufacturing will face enormous challenges as a result of the transition to net zero. The think tank has sought to define a framework for achieving a just transition – one that increases opportunity while reducing deprivation – that can be replicated across the UK. The Black Country is a key geographical area for the government’s levelling up agenda, with all four local authorities identified as ‘priority 1’ for the Levelling Up Fund.

The report, Net Zero to Level Up, highlights the high number of energy-intensive businesses selling into threatened supply chains such as internal combustion engine markets, despite the transition to electric vehicles already being well under way, with 20% of UK car sales in 2022 either battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. It also points to an existing business support system which fails to reach many small companies as another leading cause for concern.

Net Zero to Level Up also references age demographics, outlining that future investors are unlikely to employ a large number of older workers, even if they replace some of the jobs lost. With two thirds of the manufacturing workforce in the Black Country already over 40, they may struggle to find jobs of comparable quality if made redundant, the report warns.

Despite the risk of job losses, the report finds that a just transition is achievable: the 12,000 manufacturing jobs could be saved and up to 20,000 new jobs in industries such as housing and transport could be created, provided the necessary action is taken and that pathways are set up to enable people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access some of the new jobs.

To support a just transition in the Black Country, Net Zero to Level Up has produced a number of policy recommendations for regional institutions to implement, including the WMCA, the Black Country local authorities and the Black Country Chamber of Commerce. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Distributing government funded business support products through the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, alongside the banks, solicitors, accountancy firms and brokers that businesses have existing relationships with
2. A regional mergers and acquisitions service to facilitate purchase of firms which are too small to respond effectively to the challenge of net zero by larger firms with greater human and financial resources
3. Communication to businesses of the likely future demand for low-carbon infrastructure, including what any development of central government policy will mean for the West Midlands
4. Active co-ordination of public and private sector investment

The second ‘State of Economic Justice in Birmingham and the Black Country’, authored by the New Policy Institute and supported by the Trust, revisits themes and data from the first report, whilst incorporating current concerns and interests of local stakeholders.

The majority of data analysis took place pre COVID-19, but figures which were already worrying took on increased weightiness in the context of the pandemic.  Over recent years, levels of deprivation across Birmingham and the Black Country have, at least in relative terms, worsened, with some populations faring much worse than others.

The deep and chronic disadvantage described in the report can, however, be alleviated if those with their hands on the economic levers – regional and local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and large employers – explicitly address the question of how economic benefits are distributed.

According to Sara Llewellin, CEO at Barrow Cadbury Trust:

“Many people were already struggling to manage on low incomes, but job loss, reduced savings and high unemployment, mean that many who just about got by before will now find themselves in need in a way they never imagined.

Challenges will be deeper and local authorities, statutory bodies, private business, social enterprise, faith groups and the voluntary sector across Birmingham and the Black Country will have to be creative and collaborative in ways never seen before. There are enormous challenges ahead and we hope this report provides evidence to assist action, target resources and attract additional attention to the region from a range of audiences. We are well aware both of the challenges facing stakeholders in Birmingham and the Black Country, but also the assets and wonderful work that is already being delivered by so many of those we know and respect”.

Read the report.

A new report by the New Policy Institute (NPI) and Barrow Cadbury Trust ‘The State of Economic Justice in Birmingham and the Black Country’ paints a fresh narrative and analysis of data on the population of Birmingham and the Black Country, focusing on household resources, employment, skills and wages, levels of deprivation and housing and homelessness.

Like many other local authorities, Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton have struggled in a period of cuts. These budget cuts have affected the delivery of services and child poverty has risen.  Working-age poverty rates have risen as well as in-work poverty – 33% of households in Birmingham and the Black Country are classed as ‘mixed’, with only one employed adult. And the level of working age residents aged over 25 in Birmingham (50 %) and the Black Country (58%) with low skills, militate against increasing labour productivity.

Peter Kenway, one of the report’s authors and NPI’s Director said: “Birmingham and the Black Country face problems around employment, deprivation and housing as bad as anywhere in England. Central government policies, for example on social security and local government funding, deepen these problems and hamper locally-led responses. Big inequalities within the West Midlands, notably between the weakness of the Black Country economy and the economic strength of Coventry and Solihull, should be a top priority for the elected Mayor”.

Whilst it’s hard to ignore the massive gaps between this region and other parts of the country such as the South East and Manchester, the information in this report will help local authority leaders and private, voluntary sector and social enterprise partners to better understand the gaps and where to focus energy and resources.

Opportunities presented by HS2, the 2022 Commonwealth Games and other enterprises and business – many relocating from the South – will bring economic growth and prosperity to the region but, the authors of the report argue, should be forged through a lens of fairer and more inclusive economic growth. This is already in the hearts and minds of city leaders – the Inclusive Growth Unit within the West Midlands Combined Authority offers opportunity for co-operation and partnership around skills development, industrial growth and employment matched to areas of need.

Read a summary of the report.
Read the full report.

 

Angela Clements blogs about how ethical credit alternatives such as Fair for You will benefit not just those on low incomes, but everyone

I have lived and worked in Birmingham all my adult life, the last 10 years almost exclusively providing affordable credit as an alternative to high cost credit, firstly running a credit union and then Fair for You.

It’s a generalisation but on the whole our customers are women, in lower income households, with some caring obligation and in part-time work.  ‘Managing mums’ is a term that has been coined in recent months. I would say these women are sassy, switched on, entrepreneurial, hard working, and not really managing very well at all. Or at least they are until something goes wrong when they need access to fair, affordable and well- designed credit.

I have sat in rooms over the last 10 years, hearing my customers talk about the need for financial education, budgeting and debt advice.  I felt strongly throughout those years that they need better alternatives to the credit options that are currently available.

In 2014, a group of us spent hours listening to mums of younger children in Northfield, Birmingham tell us very frankly and openly about their experience with high cost credit. I went in there thinking I knew what Fair for You would look like, and I came out knowing what it had to look like.

Some amazing people and organisations have backed our work over the last three years, but we never lost sight of what we were told, and we delivered what those people needed.

High cost credit isn’t just expensive – all versions of high cost credit have that in common. But the other common trait is that it is designed for the benefit of the lender, and to take maximum extraction from the customers’ financial household.

The term the ‘poverty premium’ is used to describe  the additional costs  low income households – in other words those who have less consumer power – have when purchasing essential goods and services. Whilst the amount of that premium fluctuates in various situations, it is always consistent that the lion’s share is made up of high cost credit i.e. the additional cost of using credit when faced with emergencies.  And the same households need credit when hit by emergencies, as they have less insulation and resilience to what to other people would be relatively minor emergencies.  There seems little point in measures to address poverty in the UK, without removing the poverty premium.

On 22 March we release the third social impact report relating to the work of Fair for You, a national challenger to high cost credit that directly responds to all of the needs we identified in our research. Now I don’t just have the voices of the mums who came to all of the sessions we ran, I have thousands of voices of customers whose financial situation has been changed because they have access to an alternative.  They prove every day, that they don’t need education and advice, they need better alternatives.

Fair for You is on line, available seven days a week, customer focused and a modern solution that uses multi-media communications including social media. Put simply, credit delivered with dignity and respect, designed to meet the lives of mums – and anyone else – who juggles, struggles and are not really managing at all.

And our customers love it – we are so proud to be rated among the highest financial services in the UK according to Trustpilot.

Please check us out and if you can support our work and our drive to change the way we lend to lower income households, then we would love to talk to you.

Angela Clements is the CEO  of Fair for You

Read Centre for Responsible Credit’s Social Impact Report

www.fairforyou.org.uk

www.fairforyou.co.uk

 

 

Equalities charity brap published recently their ‘Making the Cut’ report about the challenges facing Birmingham community groups over an 18-month period.  Here, brap’s CEO, Joy Warmington, examines the findings and asks what the next step might be in addressing the difficulties and finding solutions.

 

The work of community organisations has always been underpinned by three key values. The first, and most obvious, is self-help: providing services when the state can’t or won’t, or when self-help is actually more effective or appropriate. Second is self-organisation. Community groups are often at their best when they’re movements for change in society, transforming attitudes about everything from homosexuality to disability to mental health. And finally, there’s independence: working strategically with local and national government to make life better by closing gaps in services and loopholes in the law.

 

That’s the history: what about today? In the current climate, community groups are facing unprecedented budgetary pressures. Making the Cut asked what impact is this having on frontline services and the people using them?

 

To get a better idea brap has been regularly speaking to community organisations in Birmingham for over a year. These organisations work with some of the most vulnerable in the city and cover a range of sectors, including housing, domestic violence, and youth employment.

 

What we’ve found is that cuts to spending and changes to public service design are forcing individuals to go to community organisations for the support they need. Whether it’s welfare changes, the closure of local housing advice offices, reductions in youth services, or countless other things, people are increasingly turning to local voluntary sector organisations for help and advice. Between November 2014 and July 2015, for example, 77% of community groups said they had faced a ‘significant’ increase in demand for their service.

 

But that’s not all: over the same period, 88% of project participants had to make changes to their work because of cuts to funding. For most this meant changes to admin and management support. A lot of organisations have also said there is less funding for overheads and the ‘softer’ activities that help create a fuller, more holistic support service.  At the same time funding has become more short-term, making it harder for organisations to invest in their sustainability and to plan long-term interventions. A youth service, for example, might find itself in the unhelpful position of spending a few weeks working with a troubled young person only to have them referred back to the organisation some months later. Having more time with the individual in the first place might have allowed the agency to really get to grips with the problems they faced, giving the young person the confidence and resilience to solve their problems independently.

 

What is more, community groups are finding it harder to lobby local and national government about the concerns they have. This is partly because with fewer resources and increased demand, most voluntary organisations just don’t have the time to challenge this cycle of diminishing returns. For most the time available to analyse policy, engage with decision-makers, and draw out the strategic implications of new policy, practice, or legislation on their day-to-day work has been massively reduced.

 

Additionally, the constraints on speaking out are also partly because contractual relationships can make it harder for community groups to say what they need to. Increasingly, commissioning contracts – not just locally but nationally too – are stipulating that organisations can’t speak out about the impact of funding cuts. And many organisations don’t want to risk the relationship they’ve built up with their commissioner because funding is so tight. The customer is always right.

 

Since the report was published a number of local councillors and council officials have expressed concern about its findings. As communities see the impact of funding cuts really start to hit vulnerable people, most decision makers have said they are keen to deepen their links with the voluntary sector (and, in fact, some community organisations have recently told us they’ve noticed a move toward greater partnership working). Some respondents have since promised to press for formal mechanisms with which the sector can talk to and engage new governing bodies (such as the West Midlands Combined Authority). Others have offered to explore how the contents of contracts between the council and community groups are communicated, as, they claim, the intention has never been to stifle the voice of the sector.

 

This is a crucial exercise.  For  we ignore the work, expertise, local intelligence, and advice of voluntary organisations at our peril. Many have a unique insight into the cumulative impact of welfare reforms and public service changes. There is a role for public authorities now, more than ever, to engage community organisations in discussion about how to ensure vulnerable and excluded groups aren’t being left behind. And there’s a role for us, too, as a society to think carefully about what kind of voluntary sector we want to see. Because at the moment there’s a danger we’ll lose the side of it that campaigns, and agitates, and demands. We can’t just be content for community groups to fulfil the first of the values we outlined at the start. Historically, community groups have built hospices, sheltered refugees, and made public transport accessible for the disabled. If we forget this role, we are forgetting its potential. We are forgetting its vitally important role of holding up a mirror to society and speaking truth to power.

 

Our new work supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust will feed into the ‘Making the Cut’ project by creating a series of voluntary sector “conversations” around social cohesion and inclusion in Birmingham.  Watch this space.

 

For more information about the Making the Cut project go to www.brap.org.uk/projects/making-the-cut

 

Miss Macaroon Community Interest Company (CIC) was started by Rosie Ginday, combining her passion for beautiful hand-crafted food, baking, and her desire to help disadvantaged young adults in her local area Birmingham.  Having trained to become a pastry chef at one of Birmingham’s four Michelin starred establishments, Rosie wanted to make the highly competitive Birmingham catering industry more accessible to marginalised young people from deprived areas of the city. Here the founder, a trustee, and a member of the team blog about the success of the Miss Macaroon model.

The Founder

“I set up Miss Macaroon in 2011 to bring together my passion for making the handed crafted delights that are French macaroons and providing supportive work placements for marginalised young people. Through a family member’s experience in the care system and chance encounters with a young homeless man in my home town I have always felt that I was extremely fortunate not to have been in a precarious situation myself. I dreamt of a business that combined my love of food, its power to create strong connections, a sense of community and nourish supportive relationships, throughout my time at school, university and abroad while setting up my first restaurant.

With help from amazing mentors, board members and University College Birmingham, where I did my catering training, I started producing our delicious French macaroons and ran a pilot training programme in 2011, out of which the Macaroons that Make A Difference programme emerged. To date we have worked with 17 of the most difficult to engage young people. I love making our beautiful product, quality control (taste) testing, and creating new flavours, but the thing that keeps me engaged after baking the 5000th macaroon of the day is seeing our newest member of staff practicing all of the skills he learnt on the first day he started the MacsMAD course. Initiative, time management, communication and team work are all improved by working in our kitchen. I’m really proud of the huge amount of hard work and commitment to learning and growing he has shown in working to get his apprenticeship and succeed in the Miss Macaroon kitchen, so much so that he is now called ‘Flash’!   With the support from Barrow Cadbury we can now increase the number of training placements, work experiences, mentor support sessions, and paid employment opportunities we can provide for young people who have been involved with the criminal justice system, who have been in care or found themselves homeless.

The new board member

Rosie Ginday’s Miss Macaroon has it all; exquisite hand-made French macaroons and a great cause. So when I was invited to join the board of this CIC I jumped at the chance. I’m very happy to help a project which supports young adults by providing work experience and practical help to guide them into work or education. It’s an exciting company and the energy and enthusiasm oozing from Rosie is highly infectious. She is a fantastic role model, not only for the young adults the organisation helps, but all SME business leaders, including me. Each time I attend a board meeting or catch up with Rosie in between time, I inevitably reflect back on how I can improve my own business. The Board consists of a group of experienced SME leaders with a wealth of experience across all aspects of business and it’s always interesting to get their perspective. However the most rewarding aspect is knowing (hoping!) I can play a small part in improving the work and educational opportunities for some young people. This was brought home to the board recently when one young man who had been given a short term contract at Miss Macaroon came to speak to us about his experience. He was confident, happy and had certainly soaked up some of Rosie’s enthusiasm. It was a pleasure to meet him and confirmed for me the real value of this worthwhile organisation.   I also get to eat some of the product; a perfect indulgence!

The newest full-time member of the team and beneficiary

My name is Zee and I’m 25 years old. I’m a trainee pastry chef doing an apprenticeship at Miss Macaroon. I work in the kitchen and prepare macaroons. I do a lot of the filling, packaging and baking.   When I was in a hostel last January I came across a flyer advertising the MacsMAD course as an opportunity to learn new skills. I had been unemployed for four years so the course was a good opportunity to readjust to a working environment and meet new people. I saw the flyer and thought it was something worth engaging with so I applied to get involved in the MacsMAD course. I met Rosie who helped me as mentor and gave me an introduction in to the catering industry. I also gained my food hygiene qualification. My confidence grew throughout the process. I stayed in touch with Rosie who encouraged me to get some work experience.

I was offered the opportunity to get some experience one day a week and grow in the industry. After that I got offered a position. I then went on to do three days a week. It’s been a good transition I guess to start off on one day then three days, and finally on full time hours. There hasn’t been pressure – I’ve gradually been allowed to fit in. It’s been easier than just going straight in to full time work which would have been a bit more pressure if I hadn’t had the chance to develop the way I have.   I was asked to speak at a board meeting in July and I didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit nervous but excited too. I definitely learned a different side of business and how this is a crucial part, how different minds and skills come together to improve the company. I felt privileged to be involved and it will be great to put on my CV. The opportunity was good for me to express myself about my experience at Miss Macaroon. It reassured me that I wasn’t judged. It was a good experience – definitely something positive to take forward in life. I learnt more about everyone’s roles and more about management.

Miss Macaroon has helped me to get a job in catering. It’s helped with skills, confidence, direction, focus and determination. It’s given me the opportunity to be part of something positive and constructive and to appreciate what skills are required in the work place. Rosie is a good motivator so my confidence has grown. Setting goals is now part of the way I work which I didn’t do before and that’s because of the five year plan we have put in place.

Find out more about Miss Macaroon on their website.   Twitter: @IamMissMacaroon Facebook: MissMacaroonCIC

Joy Warmington, CEO of brap, writes about 30 years of equalities practice in Birmingham and the need for clarity, a shared vision and getting on the front foot.


Here’s a quick question for you. For every £100 that a man working in Birmingham earns, how much do you think a woman earns? Ninety five pounds? Ninety pounds? Maybe as low as £85?

 

We’ll reveal the answer at the end, so while you’re mulling over that here’s another one. The unemployment rate for white people in Birmingham is about 9%. What’s the rate for black people? If you doubled 9%, try again. The answer is actually three times higher – 26%. The unemployment rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents is similarly out of kilter, currently standing at 18%. But here’s the really interesting thing. Back in 2004 the white unemployment rate was 6% while the black rate was 18% – again three times higher. Over the course of a decade, despite all its strategies and plans, the city was unable to reduce this stark inequality.

 

Why is this? Well, it’s not just Birmingham that’s been asking these questions. A number of cities – from Plymouth to Sheffield to York – have held fairness commissions in recent years to understand why entrenched inequalities persist. As useful and, in some cases, penetrating as these commissions have been they have tended to ignore the nuts and bolts of how public agencies ‘do’ equality – how they go about tackling discrimination, eradicating social patterns of disadvantage, and fulfilling their legislative equalities duties. This is a serious gap. Understanding why these approaches have failed may go some way to explain why serious inequalities continue.

 

New research From Benign Neglect to Citizen Khan, providing a bird’s eye view of equalities practice down the decades shows that many ideas have been resistant to change. Whereas society has changed greatly over the last 30 years, our equalities tools have remained remarkably similar. For example, in 1984 Birmingham City Council set up a Race Equality Unit with the aim of addressing institutional racism and improving access to council services. By 1989 the Unit had 31 staff, including race relations advisers in housing, education, and social services. The Unit’s annual report for that year shows its activities included training, monitoring uptake of services, helping different departments devise race equality schemes, improving access to services (mainly by translating information), and organising outreach events. If you were to include something about community development (helping local community groups to support disadvantaged people) these activities would all be part of the Standard Six – the half a dozen key actions that have dominated equality strategies and policies over the decades. They’re the things that crop up time and time again, regardless of the organisation’s sector or the demographics of its service users. Ideally, equality approaches would be dynamic – constantly evolving as we better understand what works. Unfortunately, this generally hasn’t been the case.

 

We don’t want to suggest that no progress at all has been made, of course. For one thing, the number of excluded groups considered by equalities practice has increased. For example, public authorities in Birmingham didn’t fund any lesbian or gay groups during the 1970s or 80s – a situation which would be subject to serious scrutiny today. In addition, equalities practice is beginning to explore the impact of leadership and organisational vision when it comes to embedding best practice, and organisations are beginning to focus more on partnership working. However, there are still some things we need to get better at.

 

Firstly, as agencies work together more closely we need to be crystal clear about what ‘equality’ means. This may sound simple, but if you speak to people in different organisations you’d be surprised at how many answers you get. This is no longer an option. Different agencies have to be on the same page when it comes to delivering fairer outcomes for the most vulnerable. Secondly, and connected with this, we need a shared vision of what good quality of life looks like for Birmingham’s residents. This needs to be informed by what people think is important and by the common needs of people from different communities in the city. In other words, it will involve much more clarity about the ‘domains’ of equality that are important to a wide range of people in the city. Thirdly, we need to devise a series of entitlements necessary to guarantee these needs and measure the provision of these through a multi-agency, multi-sector programme of activities.

 

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – we need to take equality, cohesion, and integration seriously. In addition to the Standard Six, the clearest feature arising from a historical survey of equalities practice is that we’re constantly reacting to things. Whether it’s an influx of new migrants, riots, or legislative changes, equalities practice has always been devised in response to a particular crisis or problem. We have never stood back, thought about the type of society we want to create and then pursued this vision with vigour. It’s clear that equalities practice has usually been seen as a side show to the main business of delivering services. This can’t continue. We need to get on the front foot. Rather than react to problems we need to proactively shape the future.

 

Which brings us back to where we started: how much does a Birmingham woman earn compared to a man? The answer is £81 for every £100 he earns – a gender pay gap of 19%. This is bad enough itself, but it’s also worth noting that at our current rate of progress it’ll be 2038 before pay equality is achieved (and this is assuming there will always be progress: between 2012 and 2013 the gender pay gap actually increased). It’s becoming increasingly obvious that our traditional approaches to equality are delivering progress at too slow a rate. If we do what we’ve always done we’ll get what we’ve always got. And what we’ve always got has let down too many people.

 

It’s time for a change.