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Bishop of Birmingham heads national campaign to fight poverty

Bishop of Birmingham heads national campaign to fight poverty

🕔18.Mar 2014

Birmingham is at the head of a new local government campaign to fight social inequality.

Fourteen English local authorities have signed the Birmingham Declaration on Social Inclusion, promising to share learning and develop joint campaigning on key issues around deprivation.

The call to arms is part of a national network established by Birmingham City Council and the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart.

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 rally resources and expertise.

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 backing the declaration are Barrow-in-Furness, Birmingham, Bristol, Islington, Knowsley, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Tower Hamlets.

Concerted action by the councils against social exclusion coincides with a damning report from the Equality Trust think-tank which calculates that the gap between rich and poor is costing the UK economy £39 billion a year.

The report attempts to measure the impact of inequality through its impact on health, wellbeing and crime rates.

Researchers pointed to the fact that the 100 wealthiest people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million – 30 per cent of all people – and said that the consequences of such unusually high rates of inequality needed to be acknowledged by politicians.

The formation of the National Social Inclusion Network and the Birmingham Declaration came out of the National Social Inclusion Symposium hosted by Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore and the Bishop of Birmingham in September 2013.

The network’s activities will be focused on eight themes that were identified from the reports produced by fairness and poverty commissions from around the country and developed at the symposium:

  • Living wage and income inequality.
  • Impact of welfare reform.
  • Fuel, finance and food.
  • Education and skills.
  • Youth employment.
  • Transport, access and affordability.
  • Democratic accountability.
  • Housing.

Birmingham has already been working to tackle social exclusion – 2013 saw the publication of the White Paper, Making Birmingham an inclusive city, and recommendations in the report are being put into action.

These include the Birmingham Fair Money campaign – a response to the prolific rise in high cost lending in the city, leading to the launch of the Fair Money Manifesto in December 2013.

The campaign sets out the city’s clear commitments to challenging high cost loans, helping people to tackle unaffordable debt and ensuring that Birmingham residents are able to access ethical financial services by calling for better regulation of high cost lenders, supporting the expansion of credit unions, engaging with banks so that they widen their services to residents and seeking powers to allow the council to manage the growth and operation of high cost lenders.

Birmingham has also established Places of Welcome – a network of community places that offer information, contact and assistance for new arrivals to the city and to people who move from one neighbourhood to another, underpinned by values of hospitality, simplicity and generosity. By the end of 2013 it had 17 members, with a further 30 expressions of interest in joining from other organisations.

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 Rev 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.”

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