Cambridge: Wealth and Want, Fairness Review: May 2015

Stuart Weir, 2015 May 05
Different worlds: a divided society

The Cambridge Commons has now published its Fairness Review 2015, ‘Cambridge: Wealth and Want – a shocking dossier of poverty and deprivation in a ‘hidden’ Cambridge.

You can buy a physical copy for £10 including postage; please contact us via the website or by ringing this telephone number: 07743 326422.

This disturbing report challenges the complacent celebration of Cambridge as a successful city. Many recognise its prosperous face; few know it has another.

At one extreme, the incomes and wealth, including housing wealth, of Cambridge’s rich residents continue to escalate. By contrast, at the other end of the scale in the less celebrated Cambridge, low and medium incomes have stagnated or fallen in real terms since the 2008 crash. In some pockets of wards in the north and east of the city – Market, King’s Hedges, Arbury, East Chesterton – people who are in or out of work live in real poverty. Much of the city is a place of deprivation where ever-rising house prices and private rents run far ahead of low and middle end wages and of benefits.

We live amidst growing inequality on the huge scale recently highlighted in the Sunday Times that is an affront to decency and profoundly damaging to our society, nationally and in Cambridge. In 2010, Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level showed how the impact of inequalities damaged the whole of society. Numerous studies confirm that living in an unequal country means that many people are more likely to have poorer education, housing and health, including mental health, to be the victims of discrimination and crime, and even to die earlier.

The inequality inherent in the coalition government’s austerity policies, reductions in welfare spending and entitlements, wage freezes and cuts in the public sector, and the rise in VAT and increasingly regressive NI contributions has borne down most heavily on Cambridge’s poorer residents. Whichever party or parties come to power after the May 2015 election, further large cuts in public services, in benefits and reductions in real incomes for many people look inevitable. The implications for those already struggling are bleak indeed.

Against this background, The Cambridge Commons decided to undertake a Fairness Review across the city, to raise awareness of poverty in and to explore how to make Cambridge a fairer place for everyone who lives and works in the city. Our first finding is that a majority of people in Cambridge enjoy an even spread of prosperity and sense of well-being that makes the experience of life in the city’s pockets of significant deprivation harder and all the more unbearable.

But alongside extreme wealth and prosperity for some, the Fairness Review finds for others – for children and young people as well as adults – cumulative brute realities as in the rest of the UK: poverty, destitution, hunger, little or no heating when it’s cold, premature death, preventable illness and disease, unaffordable housing in poor condition, exploitative rents, homelessness open and hidden, rough sleeping, an inability to be safe, clean and fed when physical and mental capabilities have gone, chronic insecurity and anxiety at work and “at home”, long benefits delays and punitive sanctions, chronic indebtedness, humiliation and stigma – all this in a country which is one of the most unequal in the OECD, exceeded only by the USA, Mexico and Israel.

The Fairness Review is an initial report. It is confined to certain core issues: unequal incomes and employment, the city’s divisive and dysfunctional housing market, life on state benefits, child poverty, want and hunger. Our modest resources have restricted our researches and forced us to leave aside for now other major issues, such as inequality in health and education, and among younger and older people, which we hope will be covered in later reviews. For the same reason, we have not been able to follow through the evidence of severe poverty and deprivation in surrounding areas of Cambridgeshire, particularly to the north.

Read the Fairness Review here.

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