The Oldham Fairness Commission which I set up in 2013, to identify local inequalities in education, employment, and income between different groups of people, and to define action to address them, has published its report.
Oldham is a wonderful place to live and work, but it is a fact that certain groups of people do better than others. That’s why I convened the Oldham Fairness Commission in response to the inequalities that persist across the borough.
The Commissioners that accepted my challenge were equally determined to address these inequalities across Oldham and Saddleworth, and I am very grateful to them all for their participation and contributions.
There are a number of inequalities in Oldham; for example, children coming from a low income household, are less likely to do well at school, with white boys on free school meals doing the worst of all. If you are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage, you are 30% less likely to be in work than someone of white British heritage.
If you are working woman you will be paid on average 20% less than a male colleague doing an equivalent job. If you have a disability you are 34% less likely to be in work than a non-disabled person. And of course there are some groups with multiple disadvantage.
There are consistent patterns in these inequalities which are reflected in other parts of the country and other parts of the world. We know that the systematic, socially-reproduced and differential distribution of income, wealth, knowledge and other resources ultimately effects not only how long we will live but how long we live in good health.
There is no greater inequality and injustice than knowing that you are likely to die sooner just because you’re poor.
What we now know is that by reducing these inequalities, particularly in income, not only do disadvantaged people do better, but the rest of society does better too. Evidence has shown that educational attainment, social mobility, crime levels as well as life expectancy all improve in more equal societies. Fairer societies do better and are better for everyone. It is only by working together that all our agencies will be able to pinpoint the best use of our scarce resources to tackle some of the most ingrained inequalities in our borough. It is now over to these leaders and their organisations to deliver the report’s 30 recommendations.
Three of these include making Oldham a living wage borough; reviewing childcare provision to ensure ‘wrap around’ access from early years onwards; and developing procurement policies that address local income and employment inequalities.
This report is not the end of the work to build a fairer Oldham, it is another step along the path.
One of the Commissioners, Craig Dean, who is also President of the Oldham Chamber of Commerce; Chief Executive, Web Applications UK Ltd and Chair of Oasis Academy Council, said to me: “It is no secret that there are deeply-rooted inequalities in our system.
“The OFC has worked closely with community leaders and local businesses to produce this report, highlighting where we can be doing better, and openly discussing the need for greater equality in the Oldham area.
“If we are to continue making meaningful strides towards fairness and equality in this area, it is vital that the government continue to positively engage with, and seek input from representatives in all areas of society, as demonstrated by the OFC here.”
Jacqui Greenfield, Policy and Partnerships Manager at Voluntary Action Oldham, also represented her organisation at the Commission’s sessions. Jacqui said to me: “The Fairness Commission was a great way for various organisations public, voluntary, community, faith and private to get together and look at areas of need, identify where we can do things better, share information and collectively look for solutions to issues of inequality in our borough.
“From Voluntary Action Oldham’s perspective, one area that was picked up on was the need to identify how people living in poverty – in-work or unemployed – can be better supported and we’re hoping to see this recommendation progressed.”
The Commissioners are proposing to host a conference in the summer of 2015 with all relevant partners and the public to develop and refine the recommendations and their associated action plans. They will also determine how progress will be monitored and what the reporting arrangements will be.
The report in full can be read here