As part of our regular meetups, The Cambridge Commons invites speakers to discuss their work related to inequality in Cambridge. At our most recent event, we were delighted to be joined by David Kitson and Helen Crowther talking about the City Council’s Anti-poverty Strategy including Helen’s role as Equality and Anti-poverty Officer.
What are the Key Aims of the Strategy?
The strategy looks to address inequality in four key areas: income; education, skills, and aspirations; health; and housing. In 2017, the Centre for Cities identified Cambridge as the most unequal city in the UK based on the Gini coefficient. While Cambridge is one of the wealthiest cities in the UK and a centre for the UK tech industry, this wealth is far from evenly distributed. The council have taken a number of targeted initiatives in each of the identified areas to try to address the poverty that exists within the city.
One key area of focus is pay. The council have actively sought to promote the Living Wage Campaign in Cambridge. The real living wage is £9 per hour (£10.55 in London), higher than the national living wage of £8.21 per hour, and is computed based on what employees and their families need to live. In contrast, the national living wage applies to those over 25 years and is currently calculated as 55% of median earnings. To meet the requirements of accreditation as a living wage employer, it is also required that not only are direct employees paid at least the real living wage, but subcontracted staff must be included in this. Of 4,500 businesses in the city, 48 are now accredited local employers under the scheme, with a total of 72 accredited in Cambridge overall. (Here, an employer is considered local if their head office is based in the city.) In particular, the University of Cambridge has pledged to become accredited through this work.
Other areas of work under the strategy include the provision of specialist debt and financial advice, particularly through Citizen’s Advice Bureau officers and budgeting specialists at Job Centre Plus.
Education, Skills, and Aspirations
There is an attainment differential by income across the city, as well as low levels of social mobility. In 2015, less than a third of pupils on free school meals achieved the government target of 5 A*-C grades compared to around two thirds of children not eligible for free school meals.
Methods to try to address these issues have included the provision of digital skills workshops and of funds to voluntary projects.
There is approximately a 10 year life expectancy gap between the most affluent and most deprived wards in Cambridge.
One method the council has adopted to try to redress this has been the provision of cookery skills classes in lower income areas with a view to provide people with the skills to live more healthy on limited budgets. Additionally, programmes to increase access to public leisure centre facilities for those on lower incomes have been introduced, including a 50% means-tested discount and 2,300 free swimming lessons for children.
Another key issue in Cambridge is the very high cost of housing in the area, with some of the highest rental costs in the UK. In response to this, on top of the 7,000 council homes currently supporting tenants, the council has secured funding to build 500 new council homes as well requiring that at least 40% of housing in new developments over a certain size are classed as “affordable”. Here “affordable” is defined in relation to the median household income. In addition, the council has hired an energy efficiency officer to help people to make improvements in energy efficiency.
A report detailing the measures undertaken by the City Council as part of the Anti-poverty Strategy and results prior to publication can be found here.
The talk was met with a packed and engaged audience, with questions ranging from We know from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that there is a difference between those in poverty and those in persistent poverty, where persistent means lasting at least three years. Do you have measures of the numbers of people in Cambridge in persistent poverty? to How can we address the problem of women on minimum wage earning less than the cost of childcare? If these women are forced to stop working to raise their children, what can we do to help them back into work after the subsequent employment gap? Overall, it was a thoroughly engaging evening and we welcome anyone interested in discussing or learning more about equality issues at future events.