Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Housing Trust, delivers her view on poverty from The Press offices in York where she spent the day as guest editor.
It gives me great pleasure – and a huge sense of responsibility – to be guest editor for the day.
One of the great obligations of leading the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Housing Trust is to continue the legacy of our founder.
Here in York, Joseph Rowntree built the village of New Earswick as a green community, providing decent housing for working people.
It has provided the template for modern developments for decades. And we try to emulate its success today with Derwenthorpe, which will provide the city with 500 new family homes. As Joseph Rowntree did then, we are building homes which will be fit for the future – affordable, quality in design and suited to the needs of the people of York.
Joseph Rowntree, with his son Seebohm, recorded the numbers of people in poverty, and shocked the nation with those findings. With a commitment to paying people an adequate income, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, Seebohm Rowntree calculated what his staff would need for an adequate standard of living.
Today, our Minimum Income Standard updates that work annually. It is used to calculate the Living Wage, which increasing numbers of employers in York are paying. This work is so important, because our research shows that there are a growing number of people who are working, but remain in poverty.
We have an unbroken line to that great legacy, and share with many others in this city a desire and a determination to change conditions for people. What we do continues to have influence, importance and prominence now, with the same purpose of uncovering the causes of social evil, and creating a better society for future generations.
As our society changes and grows older, we have to prepare and plan for that challenge. So our involvement – through the Dementia Without Walls programme – in York’s ambition to become a dementia-friendly city is another instance of where our home city is leading the way.
This newspaper’s Stamp Out Poverty campaign was spurred by films commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which showed the reality of poverty. The films were produced with the aim of shining a light on the reality of poverty across the UK. And they showed the reality exists on our doorstep.
For all its beauty and apparent prosperity, there are pockets of poverty, deprivation and destitution, which are a hidden scar on this city.
In some areas of the city, a quarter of children live below the breadline. We cannot deny very real poverty lives here. Nor can we let past successes to allow complacency to creep in.
As you’ll see in today’s paper, councillors approved a wide-ranging package of measures to help the city meet the ambitious aim of becoming poverty free.
Seeing councillors approve measures which will help alleviate poverty is a reminder of the beacon York is for social change. Whether it’s leading the way as a Living Wage City or building communities which stand the test of time, York has a proud history in leading the way.
We still have much to do. But it is on days like today that York can be proud of its heritage and unbreakable habit of creating a city and society that is fairer and just for all.
Catalysed by this newspaper – another institution campaigning for social change – it’s an immense source of pride for me, and one for The Press readers too.