This past year brutally exposed the depths of the inequalities within our society and economy. Last autumn, we began a vital conversation with communities across Birmingham on how we can really tackle the injustices – now we’re taking practical steps to make change happen.
As Birmingham – Europe’s largest local authority and home to a diverse population of more than one million people – emerges from lockdown we are determined to build back fairer, putting tackling inequalities, creating new opportunities and breaking down barriers at the heart of our plan for the city’s future.
Next week (18 May) I’m presenting an update on the plans outlined in Everyone’s Battle, Everyone’s Business: Together We Will Tackle Inequalities to Cabinet colleagues, with a focus on three areas:
- To lead by example, not just as an employer: Our Workforce Race Equity Review shows we need to do much more to really represent the communities we serve. We’re working to ensure shortlists and interview panels include female and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation. We’re working with our workforce, trade unions and independent experts to become a beacon for equal opportunities.
- Making Birmingham a Living Wage City: Tackling the scandal of poverty pay is essential, which is why we’re working with city partners to make Birmingham a Living Wage City and build an inclusive economy. We’re also putting ‘experts by experience’ at the heart of our decision making, through our new Poverty Truth Commission.
- Celebrating and sharing stories of Birmingham’s diversity: We all have a different story, heritage, or journey that brought us to this city. These need to be explored and celebrated as part of the wider ‘Birmingham Story’. We’re working with schools on including this in the curriculum, so children learn about the city’s diverse heritage.
We continue to be bold and open to having uncomfortable conversations to understand the underlying causes of persistent inequality. This work continues; however our extensive consultation revealed a wide range of everyday injustices that stymie lives and life chances across our city.
During this conversation, which asked how we can best tackle these issues, more than 4,000 people shared their experiences and views.
Teachers told of the digital divide, with some households only having one device available for home schooling. Community organisations saw a steep rise in food poverty, with more people turning to food banks as the pandemic hit jobs; to families facing impossible decisions between whether to eat or pay household bills as their income plummeted.
It’s not hard to see why the top three pledges identified through public consultation relate to improving citizen’s economic chances – by making Birmingham a Living Wage City, establishing a new Poverty Truth Commission and supporting staff progression within the council.
We live in one of Britain’s most diverse cities - yet for too many of our citizens opportunities are still limited as a result of their race, class, gender, age, economic circumstances or a combination of these factors.
This injustice and inequality have never been acceptable to us. Our strategy and action plan - shaped by extensive conversations with communities and partners across Birmingham - sets out how we will tackle it.
The leader of the Council, Ian Ward, and all of my Cabinet colleagues are committed to this – as are acting chief executive Graeme Betts and his senior team.
Birmingham City Council is one of a handful of local authorities to publish its Race Pay Gap Review and we are now looking at how age, disability and gender may impact colleagues economic wellbeing.
The lack of diversity within our senior leadership and management teams can no longer be ignored.
To nurture a future generation of leaders that will truly represent the city they serve, we worked with Operation Black Vote on a new leadership programme, which is now oversubscribed – so we’re developing a second phase to bring this opportunity to as many staff as possible.
Local government has a vital role to play here too. We are working with colleagues in the London Borough of Lewisham on an in-depth review of health inequalities affecting African and Caribbean communities.
This will ensure we fully understand what we need to do to support those who have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. We will look to set up similar reviews for other Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
While not everyone is directly affected by inequality, its continued existence corrodes our society in ways that hurt us all.
We must seize this opportunity to make the changes that our citizens need and deserve, because building a fairer city is everyone’s battle - and everyone’s business.
- To read the report in full, click here
Cllr John Cotton is the Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities at Birmingham City Council.