Tackling unfairness and inequality in Islington

London is a place of abject poverty and extreme affluence, living side by side and cheek by jowl; places like Islington, where those living in the wealthiest areas have a life expectancy on average four years longer than those in the poorest.

Cllr. Andy Hull (Labour, Highbury West ward, Islington) is vice chair of The Islington Fairness Commission

London is a place of abject poverty and extreme affluence, living side by side and cheek by jowl. Profound inequality is a day-to-day reality here: picture Canary Wharf, with average earnings through the roof, towering over estates where they are through the floor. Or Angel’s Upper Street, with its trendy boutiques and bars, which runs through what is actually the eighth most deprived borough in England.

That borough is Islington, where those living in the wealthiest areas have a life expectancy on average four years longer than those in the poorest. But, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue compellingly in The Spirit Level, more equal societies are happier and better, for everyone who lives in them, no matter how well off.

That is why next week we will be launching The Islington Fairness Commission, with Professor Wilkinson in the chair. Bringing together councillors from both the new Labour administration and the Lib Dem opposition, local service providers like the NHS and Met Police, voluntary and private sector representatives and outside experts, The Islington Fairness Commission is being established to take a long, hard look at the nature and the scale of the gap between rich and poor in our borough, and to come up with radical ideas and concrete plans to narrow it.

During the course of its deliberations, the Commission will pull together the evidence available on inequality in the borough before exploring how to close the gap from the bottom up and the top down. It will also consider how to make the inevitable cuts in the months ahead as fair as possible, in spite of the Coalition’s regressive budget.

Meeting in public seven times throughout the course of a year, the Commission will take the debate into the communities it seeks to serve. Convening not just in municipal buildings, but in estates, schools and businesses, it will hear testimony from witnesses drawn from those communities as well as from others with expertise and experience of tackling persistent poverty and inequality elsewhere.

The Commission’s recommendations will feed directly into the council’s corporate budgeting and strategic planning processes and will inform the important work of partner organisations in the years ahead.

It’s easy to be cynical about initiatives like this, to write them off as wonkish quangos that won’t make any real difference. But none of those on the Commission are interested in being part of another talking shop. And relative poverty in Islington is a wicked problem that demands concerted attention and serious analysis as well as action. If the answers were simple, we’d have found them by now.

Improving the life chances of residents, especially in the more deprived parts of the borough, is the top priority and central task of the incoming council. This is about the core progressive values of social justice which brought many of us into politics. And it’s about delivering on a commitment to fairness which is a defining characteristic of the British people.

The Labour leadership and London mayoral candidates could do worse than look to trailblazing local initiatives like this when they are searching for the new policy ideas, and the strong political narrative, the party now needs.

• The Commission’s first meeting will be held in Islington Town Hall at 7.30pm on Monday 19th July and is open to the public.

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