Fair response to A Tale of Two Cities

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SHEFFIELD this week faced up to the question it has between trying to answer for years - how to bridge the inequalities between the richer and poorer parts of the city.

A 23-member commission representing different sections of local society announced recommendations it believes can help heal divisions, especially between the west and east of the city, that are reflected in everything from health, life expectancy and educational achievement to unemployment, housing, crime and pollution.

Representatives of public, private, faith and voluntary sectors, who took evidence for the Fairness Commission, chaired by Prof Alan Walker, of the University of Sheffield, pledged to make Sheffield the fairest city in the country.

But in response to what one submission labelled A Tale Of Two Cities, the commission accepted it needed “to win the hearts and minds of everyone across the city”.

One key recommendation is to urge all employers to follow the example of the council and to introduce a ‘living wage’ of £7.45 for all - above the national minimum wage.

Council leader Julie Dore, a commissioner, said: “It is not right that so many people have to bear such hardships in Sheffield today. This must change and we must all step up to the mark to make a real difference.”

Many people need help to better manage their daily and unexpected expenses, it is argued, and the Fairness Commission ultimately recommends establishing a fair loan scheme as an alternative to high interest loans. Meanwhile, as many people as possible should join Sheffield’s Credit Union, and money management skills should be taught in schools.

The spectrum of Sheffield life is covered - from the need for more food banks and food co-operatives, to a day saver ticket on buses and trams for young people to help them get around the city easier, to a lower speed limit on the M1 at Tinsley to curb air pollution.

Sheffield’s restorative justice scheme - in which victims of low level crime meet offenders and help decide the punishment - is seen as a success and deserving of expansion. Local control of custody budgets is sought to refocus initiatives to rehabilitate offenders.

To encourage housebuilding, the public sector should allow developers to build now and pay for the land later. The council is urged to reallocate some land for housing that was previously designated for industry.

Some very big issues are raised - helping first time buyers to get a mortgage, tackling the real causes of some health problems, such as by improving housing conditions ...

The call, backed by a £1m budget, is for a major and co-ordinated push.

“We have not made an assessment of the assessment of the financial cost of implementing the recommendations, but we have tried to ensure that they are all realistic and achievable within the timescale of the commission (the next years). We accept, however, that this report may mean fundamental reprioratisation of current services and resources.”