Author of The Spirit Level encourages people to think globally but act locally

Light at End of Tunnel

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) reflects on the 3rd I4P Annual Lecture given by Professor Kate Pickett last night:

Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level) set out a powerful and insightful case that demonstrated the link between inequality and poverty, and the inter-connections with poor health, depression and social inequality.

During the Q and A, she also made the case for strong and vibrant unions as an indicator, not just of the potential protection they offered their members, but of a healthier political and civic set of relationships too.

She covered the key points discussed and analysed in her book (written with Professor Richard Wilkinson) but she also set out the case for action.

As she said in her introduction, she wanted to explore the roles and responsibilities of researchers working in this field of study, so an important part of the talk was on what could be done.

She re-iterated a slogan used by sustainability advocates after the Rio Summit in the 1990s: Think Globally but Act Locally. And in doing so she set out the case for employers and organisations (as well as public institutions) to take up and adopt the Living Wage and sign up for accreditation to the Living Wage Foundation.

She referenced the work of Fairness Commissions and their recommendations (taken from more than 20 across the UK) for public bodies to adopt measures that would mitigate some of the impact of the policies adopted by the Government which impact on poverty.

The work of food banks and many small, as well as large charities might help in some ways, but whilst their work might be necessary it is hardly sufficient.

Two additional things : I4P has carried out a review of Fairness Commissions for the Webb Memorial Trust and we are involved in a continuing piece of work for them details on the web site and May 4 we are screening The Divide a film inspired by The Spirit Level – hope you can join us.

The debate on poverty and inequality should include actions too

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) looks ahead to the 3rd Annual I4P Lecture on 9 February:

This year’s lecture is being given by Professor Kate Pickett (York University and co-author of The Spirit Level).

The Spirit Level addresses in a powerful and straightforward way, the causes of poverty and also inequality, not only here in the UK but across the world. The book can be read as a careful and systematic analysis of a range of data which illustrate the relationships between health, poor housing, low paid work, unemployment and poverty. But it is not merely a well argued, well informed analysis of the data. It points to the actions that governments as well as employers can take to address these structural inequalities and it argues as well, that both the non-actions of the state and those of employers represent choices to maintain inequality.

It seems to me that the value of The Spirit Level lies in the way it sets out the data and the evidence. You don’t have to agree with their recommendations for action but it is hard to dispute their analysis. And for those that agree and share the analysis and the overall set of actions, it is important to think of what we then choose to do. We can choose to agree with the analysis but say that we can’t adopt some of the recommendations (including adopting the Living Wage or looking at our procurement policies and thinking about our capacity to influence our suppliers and contractors) because we don’t have the power or we can seek to adopt the recommendations as one set of small steps that begin to change the lives and working conditions of those who are dependent on our choices.

We are involved in a funded piece of work from the Webb Memorial Trust on ‘What Makes a Good Society’ – adopting these recommendations would be a start.

Why charity trustees matter: Getting governance and accountability right

Woman hands in winter gloves Heart symbol shaped Lifestyle

Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) comments on the report on Kids Company by a Parliamentary investigation:

The details of the collapse of the charity Kids Company are likely to be subject to much debate and criticism. The likely negative impact on the lives of those young people who relied on the support of staff who worked for Kids Company cannot be underestimated.

The media fascination with the charity and the willingness of most senior political leaders to look for a photo opportunity with its founder and many of its users probably did no one any favours in the long term.

One of the key learning points in the report which is being discussed today is the role of the trustees. A really central element in keeping charities going is the role of the trustees. They have the responsibility to exercise oversight and keep an eye on the financial health of the organisation. Both require close engagement with the work of the charity and both require trustees to take their roles seriously. And it appears too as if the chair of the Kids Company trustees had been in that role for over 15 years. As a small sign of good practice you would want the chair of the board to change and certainly serve not more than 5 or 6 years.

Declaration of interest: I am chair of a small national charity and we have term limits for our chair and I will be finishing this November after 3 years in the role. Fixed term limits requires trustees to think of succession planning and making changes. Trustees (whilst needing support and training) can become over connected with the charity and of course you want them to be advocates and proud supporters, but they as well to be the critical voice or the questioning voice ensuring that the aims and values of the charity are being met. And with charities that are set up and led by strong and very committed personalities it is important to have a strong set of trustees too. They are there to protect the charity for as long as they feel able.

Getting the governance and accountability processes right is about protecting those that depend on it too. Sadly it looks as if Kids Company is going to be a case study in the failure of governance rather than in a celebration of what can be achieved by the charity and not for profit sector.

What do we learn from the Comprehensive Spending Review?

There are three lessons from the Comprehensive Spending Review.

First, don’t believe the spin before the statement;

Two, don’t believe the spin after the statement;

And three, look at the trends in spending and their impact.

Whilst the headlines are saying it wasn’t all bad and the cuts weren’t in the order of 30 per cent, but in some cases 20 per cent, and there is investment in some areas that wasn’t anticipated (sport especially) we can look at the trends.

One lesson immediately is that the revision of growth means that the Government has more flexibility than they thought and we can assume (even though the next election is just under five years away) that this will help prepare for 2020.

The second immediate lesson is that the percentage of spending by the state as a proportion of national income is heading downwards past European levels and moving towards US levels.

This is significant and profound. It means that some of the financial and policy changes introduced over the last five years or so are going to be irreversible without significant investment through taxes should a new (non-Conservative government) wish.

The third lesson is what is happening at the local level: since the late 1970s successive governments have shifted the share of money spent at the local level from taxes raised by city hall to money allocated from Westminster. Now the move is the other way. But it is happening in a context of cuts and social and political change.

The responsibility for spending is being devolved (the shift to city regions or combined authorities) but the resources are not following. Hence closures of many local services which are regarded as non-essential (libraries and children’s services) but at the same time statutory services are bring squeezed – especially adult social care.

We can expect more closures of services for the elderly and these cuts are likely to lead to more localised resistance and opposition. As part of our role we will be monitoring these changes and will post updates and briefing papers too over the next twelve months.

Find out more about I4P and its calendar of events here.