For too long we have either turned a blind eye to poverty and disadvantage or hoped that a general rising tide of economic wealth would trickle down. The vote to leave the EU has opened our eyes wide to the depths of disgruntlement and cast a strong light on the inadequacies of our economic model. We must now truly focus on how we forge a good local society and create an economy for all.
More devolution of powers and budgets from Whitehall offers councils the chance to tackle poverty and inequality by ‘doing things differently’.
Too often policy has little empathy toward the poorest. We already know that the policy default settings, such as trickle down and a ‘rising economic tide will lift all boats’ are just not strong enough to tackle poverty, even in times of growth. But increasingly, some policy seems alarmingly detached from the plight of the poorest. We don’t need to look very far to see this detached lack of empathy. It’s in the words of politicians, who denounce the benefit claimant as ‘a shirker’, but applaud the virtues of elite greed.
The biggest beneficiary of the living wage is not people or places, it’s HM Treasury Low pay is the fastest-growing reason people in the UK are poor: an estimated 5 million people are not paid a wage that enables them to live a decent quality of life.
Many local places face significant challenges. On the one hand, sluggish or no growth, coupled to rising inequality and poverty is placing significant pressure on public services. On the other, austerity and cuts to local government and public services are reducing the ability by which the public sector can act. There is a lot of commentary about the causes of inequality and poverty but a lack of real action.
At a time of austerity, can local leaders do more to tackle poverty with their existing processes, budgets and services? Matthew Jackson looks at the options.