Addressing inequalities – in this episode, we speak to Kate Pickett, professor at the University of York and Chair of the Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission. We look at the impact of the UK’s inequalities, particularly in the face of Covid-19.
Listen for Chatter about Kate Pickett’s first experience of employment, the work of the Independent Inequalities Commission, the need to consider strong wellbeing plans within your workplace, and the impact of the pandemic on work.
"Work is a really really important part of those psycho-social pathways through which inequality affects wellbeing"
The Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission (GMIIC) and report was launched in March, and contained a suite of 17 action recommendations forged from evidence gathered and consultation over the preceding 6 months. As the city region now moves to delivery, and building back from the ravages of the pandemic, the report and recommendations represent an unique opportunity and bold step change; a change which could banish inequalities and serve to forge an even Greater Manchester for all.
Inequalities are longstanding
Greater Manchester has longstanding inequalities, with many feeling they have too little power or voice. The report lays out the facts: GM has systemic, entrenched and intersecting inequalities. These inequalities straddle housing, health, education, public services and of course wealth and income. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has further revealed the precariousness of modern work, the eviscerated public sphere, the blight of racism, prejudice and discrimination, all in contrast to significant wealth and opportunity. In this we have a great city region which is not at truly at ease with itself; too many communities are left behind or do not fully enjoy the opportunities that are afforded to some.
Inequalities are systemic.
Of course, we have appreciated and wrestled with these inequalities for years, with many laudable efforts, such as the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission. However, the injustice has prevailed. What our past and present tells us is that these inequalities are systemic and therefore will not be dislodged or addressed without a significant step change in approach involving a redoubling of effort. And the stakes are high, as we have reached a critical juncture. The actions we take now in Greater Manchester will have profound and lasting consequences – on how we live in communities and the terms within which we reach social, economic and spatial justice and forge a fairer society that is truly fit for the future.
This was the backdrop and context to our evidence gathering and deliberations within the commission. In this we fully acknowledged that a universal redress to the inequalities would require Central Government to devolve more and work alongside GM. However, as we make clear, the vast bulk of what is contained within the 17 recommendations are in our control right now, and if pursued with commitment and zeal would make significant inroads into inequalities. I wish here to hone in on 3 elements in the report which are indicative of the type of approach required.
An anchor action network
Firstly, there is no shortage of effort and many good things are happening within the Mayoral Office, GMCA, the 10 municipalities, in public services, businesses, in the VCSE sector, in the major institutions and in communities themselves. However, lessons from the past and from the consultations tell us that this must go further, broader and deeper, with more consistency, concerted focus and collaboration. Therefore, the report recommends a powerful action focussed ‘anchor network’, convened by the Mayor. Our major institutions across Public, Social and Commercial sectors are massive players within the Greater Manchester economy and society, and as such can - through a voracious social value frame - pivot and go the extra mile. They must use their economic leverage even more and seek to employ more GM residents, purchase more goods and services that support GM enterprises, use land and property holdings more for the benefit of communities and ensure investment and development activity is unleashed to support long-lasting social, economic and ecological return for the communities of GM.
Build on the employment charter
Secondly, we need to deepen and strengthen of the GM employment charter. This has been a great start and success, but we now need to use the charter to drive commitments in which the real living wage becomes more universal and hard-wired into the GM DNA, where set working hours are guaranteed, and where decent and fair pay structures and practices are adopted across all economic sectors, including care, retail and hospitality. All made consistent with GM wide fair work pledges and commitment to change and action.
Thirdly, wealth is a defining feature of all economies and whilst GM has a lot of wealth, too much of it fails to land with our communities and citizens. Therefore, we recommended that, GM should set up a Community Wealth Hub with new forms of community investment platforms. We know that one of the key ways to address inequalities is to give more GM residents a meaningful stake in the economy. Not just as employees, but as owners with more control and say over assets and economic production. GM should join the fast growing community wealth building movement and become a beacon for economic democracy with a flourishing and growth of inclusive forms of economic ownership. This includes the significantly acceleration and growth of social enterprises, cooperatives, employee owned firms and community business. Through addition support, networks and bending of anchor spending, we should embrace diversity of inclusive ownership as a means of retaining wealth and building a broader range and capacity for innovation within the GM economy.
GM is our place, and this is our time.
This is a snapshot of just three of the recommendations in the report. However, alongside the other 14 recommendations, they offer GM a recipe for abiding change. A change that would produce a city that is more inclusive and more at ease with itself, one where everyone can realise their potential, regardless of where we live, our race, age, class or gender. This is a time of great change and turbulence, but also a time for our major institutions and everyone to recognise that this is the moment where we banish inequalities and injustices. We can do this. GM is our place, and this is our time.
Written 15 June 2021
Neil McInroy is the CEO of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies(CLES) – The UK national organisation for Local Economies, based in Greater Manchester. He was a commissioner on the Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission.
He is also Part-time seconded to the Scottish Government as a Community Wealth Building Adviser. From July he will be joining the Democracy Collaborative, a US-based think do tank, where he will become a Senior Fellow for the Global Advancement of Community Wealth Building.