Why are things so unfair?
That’s a hard question but it’s the one asked by Councillor Jimmy Black, the chair of the Dundee Fairness Commission, in our report, A Fair Way to Go. It has a whopping 56 recommendations – way more than anyone planned. But to understand how we ended up with so many ideas, you have to go back to the start of last year.
When the Dundee Fairness Commission kicked off in early 2015, we brought together a wide range of local and national leaders and experts from contrasting backgrounds and interests. The one thing they had in common, though, was a desire to do something to turn around the unfair (and unhealthy) levels of poverty and inequality faced by too many people in Dundee. A third of the city, its children and its people live in poverty and that is unacceptable in a city that wants to thrive economically AND socially.
After a few Fairness Commission sessions, we were delighted to be able to host an event as part of the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland conversation. The big roundtable discussion in the Council Chambers was great but much more meaningful was the private meeting between Alex Neil MSP and some people who were experiencing the sharp end of life on low (or no) incomes. Mr Neil was asked to think about issues like the vicious impact of sanctions, the hardship caused by homelessness and a lack of affordable housing. He also heard about how hard it can be to turn your life around when you’re suffering from poor mental health.
But this community engagement was just the starting point. Inspired by colleagues in Glasgow and Renfrewshire, the Commission were determined to bring the voices of people experiencing poverty in Dundee right to the centre of our thinking. So we worked with dedicated and creative partners in the third sector (Faith in the Community Dundee, Craigowl Communities and Shelter Scotland in Dundee) to facilitate a comprehensive engagement process.
They conducted surveys, face to face interviews and focus groups with particularly vulnerable groups including young mums, BME women and kinship carers. They also made a series of short videos to portray individual cases that ‘tell a story’ of living in poverty from different perspectives and lived experiences. The final engagement report is making a huge contribution to the way organisations in Dundee are planning to improve their services.
But that wasn’t the end of it. We presented some of our early thinking to people who had participated in the research and we received some very honest and direct feedback.
“I think it’s good that they talked to us but they need to follow
through on what needs to be done.”
“It’s all fine writing things on a notepad and getting emotional
but we need to see change otherwise we’re still in it
all the time. What’s the point?”
“We need feedback, an outcome, change.”
So after about a year’s worth of evidence sessions, engagement and decision-making, we came up with those 56 recommendations to reduce poverty and inequality in Dundee covering,
- Work and Wages;
- Closing the Education Gap;
- Benefits, Advice and Support;
- Housing and Communities; and
- Food and Fuel.
Yes, there are lots of recommendations for Westminster and Holyrood because that’s where some of the biggest causes of inequality will have to be sorted. Without national policies on fairer wages and conditions, benefits and support into real jobs energy prices we’ll be fighting an uphill battle to lift all of our people out of poverty and deal with unjust consequences like child poverty and the unacceptable education gap it creates.
But most of the Commission’s ideas are about what we can change in Dundee to come up with local solutions for local people. That means everyone – public services, voluntary organisations, businesses and employers, faith groups, and communities themselves – coming together and agreeing what they can do to
And following a packed and positive launch event, we’re assured that Dundee is up for it. According to Jimmy Black in his foreword to the report:
Many times over the last century, Dundee and its people have shown that they will care for and support their friends and neighbours who are struggling against poverty and we are confident that our citizens will rise to this challenge again.
So that’s the new question we’re faced with: how can we come up with meaningful actions that will match the ambition and breadth of the Fairness Commission’s recommendations? One way is to make sure that local people continue to have a voice in the process. We’ve taken the principle of nothing about us, without us, is for us completely to heart and we’re going to find a way to make sure that our progress is informed and scrutinised by the people who most need a helping hand.
Chief Executive, Dundee City Council