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Fairness ‘must mean getting a ‘living wage’
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, with the chairman of the commission, Ruth Redfern and Coun James Alexander, the leader of City of York Council
A LANDMARK report outlining how York should tackle inequality and poverty has called for everybody in the city to be paid a “living wage”.
The York Fairness Commission was formed last year with the aim of ensuring none of York’s residents are forgotten amid the recession, as City of York Council is faced with saving £19.7 million over the next two years and services are stretched to the limit.
The commission, which was sponsored by the Archbishop of York , Dr John Sentamu, presented its final report at Bishopthorpe Palace last night. Addressing the city’s housing problems was high on its list of “headline” recommendations.
The commission said the wages of those on the lowest incomes should be set at a level allowing a “minimum socially acceptable standard of living”.
London’s Living Wage is calculated at £8.30 an hour, with the figure elsewhere being £7.20, but the national hourly minimum wage is £6.08.
The report said the council should set a “realistic time frame” for introducing a Living Wage policy and promote the approach to businesses and other local authorities.
Recommendations also included:
• More apprenticeships and opportunities for the unemployed and low-paid to learn new skills
• Improvements in energy efficiency so the elderly and poorer residents can cut their fuel bills
• A by-law cracking down on payday loan companies
• A central information hub, offering advice on issues ranging from debt and benefits to parenting and housing
• Setting “stretching yet realistic” affordable housing targets which do not deter developers, providing more social housing and improving the quality of rented accommodation
• Making childcare more “affordable and flexible”, especially in poorer communities.
The commission has also drawn up a list of “ideas and proposals” put forward during its consultation exercise, saying some were “practical quick wins” while others were longer term, but they could all “make an impact on fairness”.
It called on the council to sign up to its “fairness principles”, give a formal commitment to taking them forward, assume responsibility for their delivery and produce an annual progress report.
Chair Ruth Redfern said: ‘‘Inequality is corrosive and there is no place for such social devastation in this beautiful, vibrant and wealthy city.
‘‘We hope our report will be owned and actioned by all.
‘‘It does mean a new way of thinking, by considering the impact on inequality of all decisions we make as organisations, businesses and individuals, but never has there been a more important time to do so.”
Kersten England, the council’s chief executive, said the report was hugely important. She said: “We will embrace this report across all our services and play a leading part in its implementation to become a fairer and more equal city, making sure nobody is left behind.”
AMONG the commission’s recommendations is the assessment of a raft of ideas and proposals for tackling inequality, which include:
• Directing more health funding to the most needy communities and those with the lowest incomes
• A “zero-tolerance” approach to hate crime and a city-wide scheme to protect domestic violence victims
• Better access to and promotion of Credit Unions, better financial education in schools and more work on fighting child poverty and getting young people into work and off benefits
• Creating a “city-centre space” for young people, including a homework club, and making sure children are not “priced out” of school trips and other activities
• Introducing a charter for secondary schools to reduce uniform costs for low-income families and extending bus fare concessions up to the age of 19
• Lobbying the Government to give the council wider control of housing funding so more social and affordable homes can be built
• More pitches and better accommodation for travelling communities
• Better “co-ordination” between voluntary and community groups to deliver services, as well as looking at additional services they could provide on their own or with the council.