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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.


Karen Leach of Localise West Midlands blogs about progress so far on establishing local economic models in the region


The biggest levers for real social change are in economic development. Whether it be campaigning for a living wage, getting social value into public procurement, or taking the principle of maximising the local reach of prosperity into how we operate our economy.


The idea that prosperity could be localised led to our work this year to generate practical changes locally, based on the findings of last year’s research into the social outcomes of a more localised approach to economics.   There is a need to appeal not just to those of us for whom social issues are our bread and butter, but also to those whose primary role is mainstream economics and who tend to dance to the trickledown tune – that any growth is good growth, and the faster the better, with the question of ‘who benefits?’ being overlooked.


The Localising Prosperity web resource is Localise West Midlands’ attempt to capture this wider appeal. It describes the ‘virtuous circle’ relationship between more locally owned businesses, more local power, better social outcomes and more widespread prosperity. It outlines how this virtuous circle can be fostered through economic interventions, procurement and community activism. It gives some tactics and guidance for these different audiences, and some inspiring case studies and evidence for how effective this model is from the UK and abroad.


We’ve been working with Right Care Right Here, an excellent health sector led partnership across Sandwell and West Birmingham with a strong awareness of the need to tackle the broader social issues that affect health, such as housing and employment; the procurement process is as important as A & E is as a tool for looking after local people’s health.


We’ve also been working with locally-owned businesses to develop a model for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to win business in the retrofit sector (the transformation of buildings to make them more energy efficient), with the aim of localising prosperity and encouraging social inclusion – learning from case studies of business co-operation in Italy and Spain.


These Black Country and Birmingham collaborations have been very encouraging. The Black Country has a ‘needs must’ track record of work on localising prosperity; Birmingham perhaps less so – its global/second city status historically giving it a rather blinkered fixation on inward investment, conferences and iconic buildings. But more recently, Birmingham has been rediscovering its own potential for generating prosperity.   The City Council has seen the need to use new levers to ensure greater fairness within its economy as welfare or grant safety nets are removed. One of its innovations is the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility, to which its supply chain is required to sign up with its own individually tailored action plan. The Charter requires socially responsible behaviour including commitments to buying and employing locally. From our perspective the real strength of the Charter is its demonstration that if we all share this commitment, we will all prosper.


Leading on from these innovations in the West Midlands area, and mindful of devolution developments across England and of case studies from abroad, wouldn’t it be brilliant to form a ‘Lepa-like’ – a Localising Everyone’s Prosperity stakeholder partnership for the conurbation, with explicit social objectives, and built on local private sector commitment to the area? Matching up local business needs and skills; encouraging local financing models and buying local commitments, at the same time as basing our sense of identity on the enterprise that we own and making work for our collective benefit.

Alun Severn is the co-ordinator of the Birmingham and Solihull Social and Economic Community Council with a background in social enterprise and the third sector. In this blog he reminds us of the importance for the third sector and social enterprises of getting to grips with social value if the sectors are to compete in the current marketplace.


Hands up who understands what is meant by the expression ‘social value’? If you work in the third sector and social enterprise sector you’ll either be grappling with how to implement and monitor it or sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will go away. But for the time being it is here to stay and we have to make the most of it.


For the past two years Birmingham & Solihull Social Economy Consortium (BSSEC) has been delivering a Barrow Cadbury Trust-funded project aimed at identifying meaningful ways of implementing the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. The Act, for those of you not familiar with it, requires “public authorities to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts; and for connected purposes”.


BSSEC has worked jointly with Birmingham City Council and other public service commissioners to support the implementation of social value, providing briefings, resources and free workshops for social enterprises and trading voluntary organisations to help improve their ability to compete within the terms of this new legislation.




Many local authorities have made good progress in putting in place practical arrangements to embed social value-based approaches in their commissioning and procurement procedures.


But they are not implementing social value as a stand-alone policy. Rather, it is being utilised as part of a wider response to the current pressures under which local authorities are operating – government spending cuts, decommissioning services, making efficiency savings, reducing the demand on services, and becoming primarily service commissioners rather than service providers. Efforts are also being made to align social value with existing corporate priorities, processes and key policy drivers and the following have become central to shaping social value priorities amongst councils:


  • Targetted employment, apprenticeships and training opportunities.
  • Strengthening local economies and ‘making the local pound work harder’.
  • Avoiding ‘exporting jobs’ as a consequence of buying outside of authorities’ catchment areas.


Local authorities making the most progress on social value are taking bold approaches that go beyond the minimum requirements of the Act. Rather than applying social value only to service contracts above the EU procurement thresholds, which is all the Act requires, they are applying the legislation as widely as possible, to both services and goods, to all contract values, and to all providers.


Evidencing and measuring social value remain the least developed parts of the process and most authorities (and social enterprises, for that matter) are adopting a ‘wait and see’ position on measuring social value. There are a number of reasons for this:


  • It is still very early days and few contracts have progressed to the point at which evidencing requirements can be reviewed or checked for effectiveness.
  • Providers and purchasers lack not just standardised methods for measuring and reporting social value, but also a shared language for articulating social value.
  • There is still some doubt regarding not the just the type of evidence commissioners want, but also what they wish to measure and report.


Reduced staff capacity within local authorities also means that too little is being done to assess whether transferable evidencing and monitoring methods might already exist in other parts of their organisations.




Many social enterprises don’t know where to start in adopting a social value measurement method. They don’t know what information to collect, what to measure, what information commissioners will find most meaningful, what method is most suited to their size and type of organisation, or what the costs of implementation might be. The bewildering array of courses, methods, tools, consultancy offers and proprietary systems purporting to measure social impact and social value make it virtually impossible to make a decision. Two recently launched websites alone – Inspiring Impact , which is backed by the Cabinet Office, and the Social Value Hub , which is an initiative of Social Enterprise UK – contain hundreds of outcome measures, impact tools and reports.


Fortunately for us, the Centre for Citizenship, Enterprise and Governance (CCEG) is currently undertaking work to assess how public authorities are implementing the Act and by Autumn 2014 there should be an ‘official’ UK social value portal which could include guidance and recommendations.




For many social enterprises the problem is not so much measuring social value but articulating and describing their social value. Many social enterprises struggle to describe what they do and the social benefit they deliver. They lack a defined, agreed corporate statement regarding their social value that is understood and used by all staff at all levels throughout the organisation. Achieving this is not the icing on the cake, but it is a good starting point and would help many to begin the process of identifying a suitable social value framework – including appropriate social value indicators and evidence – specifically for that organisation.


Our experience suggests that those enterprises fewer than around 25 staff are struggling because they don’t have enough staff to dedicate sufficient time and effort to social value and impact measurement.


There is a risk that a disproportionate burden of data-gathering and evidence will fall predominantly on the shoulders of suppliers. This would severely disadvantage smaller social enterprise and third sector providers (and smaller SMEs too). The Third Sector Research Centre recently published a report voicing precisely this concern.




Whatever regimes for measuring and reporting social value local authorities adopt must be proportionate and ‘do-able’ and should ideally be a joint effort between public service commissioners and the sector. Anything over-complicated or disproportionate is likely to erode rather than create social value. This makes continuing work to support social enterprises and trading third sector organisations in their social value practices of even greater importance.


Social enterprises and third sector organisations in Birmingham should take this early opportunity to sign up to the Birmingham Business Charter for Social Responsibility. The Charter is still in its infancy and early adopters are likely to be  able to influence both it and the subsequent monitoring that will be required from businesses reporting against their Charter action plans. While the Charter is not solely concerned with social value, it has become Birmingham’s main tool for a social value focus and guidance. Social enterprises should get cracking and start signing up to the Charter – they shouldn’t leave it to the private sector to lead on the Charter, as is the case at the moment.


Richard Browne, Partnership Manager at Birmingham City Council, writes about the launch of the National Social Inclusion Declaration


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.


While in recent months economic statistics 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 because of the reduction in resources.  It is  this context that makes the launch of the National Social Inclusion Network and accompanying Birmingham Declaration so timely.


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 that will make dealing with these issues easier.


This awareness resulted in the first National Social Inclusion Symposium being hosted by Birmingham City Council’s Leader, Cllr Sir Albert Bore and The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham,  funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, in September 2013.  At this event 15 local authorities from across the country agreed to establish a National Social Inclusion Network and to sign a declaration to demonstrate 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 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 a variety of ways across the network with the shared determination to address deep-rooted issues of inequality and disadvantage and deliver the changes needed.


If you would like to  follow the work of the network you can do so through the blog , via social media @fairbrum and #fairplaces or by getting in touch with our team [email protected]




In this cross-post from Birmingham Settlement, Chief Executive Martin Holcome gives his personal take on rising energy costs and how this had led the creation of the recently launched Fuel For Food campaign.


Like many others I’ve been watching the debate about energy company profits and price rises. I find myself disillusioned with the whole thing; I feel helpless and outside of the discussion; I don’t feel I have a voice and neither do the people I work with. Individuals are of little relevance or consequence – it’s about the wants of corporate finance, majority shareholding institutions concerned more with money than the needs of people. Those on the margins don’t matter, dividends do!


Whilst politicians consider whether levels of profit are too high or if it should be made easier to switch supplier, what I and my colleagues know, and can evidence, is that many people are suffering real hardship. One of the services we run at Birmingham Settlement is a debt advice service and the numbers of people coming to us for advice has spiralled this year. Yesterday we had 53 people through our door seeking financial help and advice – the largest number we’ve ever had in a single day.


I would like politicians and energy company CEOs to spend time with some of the people who through circumstance beyond their control cannot afford the fuel needed to heat their homes or cook their food. We work in partnership with others such as food banks to provide support where it is most needed and I’m afraid a response we are increasingly hearing from clients is ‘there’s no point, I can’t afford the fuel to cook the food’.


I was involved in a discussion a few days ago about whether the UK was the 5th, 6th or 7th largest economy in the world – it seemed to depend on which report you read; the discussion went on to whether it was right for people to be limited to three food parcels per family, irrelevant of circumstance. I was amazed that the idea of food banks now seems to be an acceptable concept, everyday language – is it really acceptable in 2013 that the second largest city in one of the biggest economies in the world has such a problem; that its own citizens cannot cook the contents of a food parcel because they have no fuel?


I am reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the most basic human life needs include food, drink, shelter, warmth – how on earth can we expect people to grow and prosper if they can’t cook a meal?


Winter is almost on us and for too many this means additional hardship as they will not be able to meet the costs of soaring fuel bills; they will no doubt face the consequences of not being able to contribute to the billions handed out in dividends to the privileged few.


At Birmingham Settlement we have suggested a practical measure that could really make a difference. We are asking the energy companies to give every household access to an hours’ supply a day irrespective of debt and personal circumstance. This means if prepayment meters have no credit fuel would still be available for one hour everyday – we suggest between 12 noon and 1 pm. Energy providers (electric and gas) have the technology to make this happen. The residential supply of water cannot be legally disconnected, where as fuel is increasingly disconnected; and to the poorest families in our society. This is wrong! Profit making energy companies need to show social responsibility – support society by putting more back, and now!


Birmingham Settlement has begun an e-petition to ask the Government to legislate for the basic human right for every household to be able to cook a hot meal each day under a Fuel for Food campaign – you can support us by signing the e-petition here.


In our final l post work of the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) in Wolverhampton, we look at some of the complex social and welfare issues that RMC advisers assist with every day. Some of the names have been changed.


Securing a place at school

RMC helped Rose to complete the application for admitting her child to the local school. It is very difficult for clients with little English to discriminate between very important and less important letters from their child’s school. Rose always brought any letters from school to RMC so that she was sure she fully understood them. When she moved to another area we assisted her in appealing the decision not to allow the child to move schools. Later Rose was obliged to return to her home country for several months and we contacted Wolverhampton Council to inform them that the child would be travelling abroad for a protracted period of time.

An adviser and client at the RMC (not those featured in these case studies)

An adviser and client at the RMC (not those featured in these case studies

Housing debt while coping with cancer

Our client was in debt with rent arrears with their housing provider, who had contracted out collection of the debt to a private company. The debt collectors demanded that he pay each month over the phone. Because the client couldn’t speak English he had to travel to RMC each time so that an adviser could assist him.


He found the journey difficult as he was suffering from cancer, and he was being harassed by the debt collectors knocking on his door continuously. An RMC adviser contacted housing provider and explained the situation. The housing provider retrieved the debt collection from the private company and allowed the client to make payments by direct debit, which was a huge relief to the client.

For the second of our series of short case studies from the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) in Wolverhampton, we find out a bit some more of the challenges that RMC advisers regularly assist with. Some of the names have been changed.


Help with getting citizenship


It is gratifying for Refugee and Migrant Centre staff when their clients finally achieve British citizenship, often at the end of a long, in distance and time, and tortuous journey.



Amira who was from Iraq was applying for citizenship for herself and her children. They all gained citizenship except for one son who was refused because had not passed the ‘Life in the UK’ test.


He was advised by the Government to take the test as soon as possible. However the test costs nearly £900 which the family did not have. RMC were able to support Amira and her son in appealing the decision and after a long wait his citizenship was granted.


Mental health related work


Nora was from Kuwait and seeking asylum in the UK. She had recognised mental health issues and needed support with many aspects of her life.


An advisor at the RMC

An advisor at the RMC

RMC made GP, hospital and physiotherapy appointments for her and organised interpreting services at these appointments. We located a dentist and booked her an appointment with ‘Healthy Minds’, a psychological therapies service for people who are experiencing common mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress.


We liaised with her housing provider re the condition of her accommodation and assisted her in applying for courses at a local college. When she failed to hear the outcome of her asylum interview we contacted her solicitor and the local MP who pursued her case. RMC advisers translated and explained every response so that Nora could better cope with her stressful situation.


Nora is still visiting RMC regularly and still hasn’t heard the outcome of her asylum claim.

In this, the first of a series of short case studies from the Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) in Wolverhampton, we learn about some of the challenges faced by RMC clients, and the work that RMC advisers undertake to support them. Some of the names have been changed.


Untangling the web


At stressful times clients need practical and emotional support from the RMC. They may visit weekly or even daily to access that support.


Benita is a refugee from Cameroon. Her children were taken into the care of the local authority following an allegation made by one of her children. RMC made an appointment with a solicitor to represent Benita and accompanied her to her first appointment to help with interpreting.


Benita’s restricted understanding of English meant that she needed RMC to help her to comprehend any communications from social services, the police and her solicitor. Sometimes her access visits to her children were cancelled at short notice and RMC helped her make arrangements to see her children more regularly.


RMC supported her in getting progress reports from her children’s school and in explaining the contents of letters from her solicitor. Benita needed to visit RMC sixteen times in eight weeks. RMC is continuing to support her with the on-going case.


Supporting single mothers


Single mothers are particularly disadvantaged because they have to negotiate their way through many government departments and formal institutions to access their own and their children’s rights whilst caring for those children, and unsupported by a partner.


Dani had had both her Income Support and her Tax Credits application disallowed because of misunderstandings and insufficient evidence on her original application forms. RMC contacted the Job Centre and HMRC to clarify the situation and then supported her in reapplying. Through RMC she accessed Maternity Allowance and food vouchers through the Healthy Start programme.


Dani was registered as self-employed and needed support with completing her tax returns correctly. When problems arose with her child’s attendance at school RMC were able to facilitate meetings so that the issues could be resolved.