As we approach a snap General Election on 8 June, issues of income inequality among the electorate are at the forefront of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s case for a fairer Britain.

This month, as part of Now Then’s work with the Our Fair City campaign, we’ll be discussing prospects for fairer money and financial wellbeing in Sheffield and some wider systemic approaches to a redistribution of wealth in the UK, culminating in an event on 20 June at the Quaker Meeting House as part of Festival of Debate 2017.

The prevalent discourse on wealth redistribution for the last 50 years has been the concept of trickle-down economics: the idea that wealth made by the top percentile in society will eventually trickle down, enriching and benefitting the whole of society. With the aim of fulfilling this, successive governments have employed fiscal policies which lower the rate of tax on the top earners in the hope that it would lead to a rise in economic growth, wages and job creation.

This theory – perhaps better referred to as an ideology – is considered defunct by all but the most ardent right-leaning economists, a point characterised rather aptly earlier this year by British think tank The High Pay Centre in the use of their term ‘Fat Cat Wednesday’. Wednesday 4 January 2017 marked the date in the year by which CEOs of the top FTSE 100 companies had earned more in four days than a typical worker earned in a whole year. Combine this with recent statistics illustrating that the world’s eight richest individuals have the equivalent wealth of 50% of the world’s poorest people and you get an idea of just how unequally global wealth and resource is distributed in 2017.

As those of you who read Now Then last month will know, this issue is particularly relevant for people living in this city. Sheffield is the low pay capital of the UK, meaning that on average workers in Sheffield receive 10% less pay per hour than our counterparts in other UK cities. This paints a bleak picture for our city when presented alongside statistics revealed in the Sheffield’s Fairness Commission and annual State of Sheffield reports, which illustrate that Sheffield has some of the highest levels of deprivation in UK, with over a quarter of children living beneath the poverty line and a life expectancy difference of up to ten years between the North East and the South West of the city.

In large part this level of deprivation and inequality should be deemed symptomatic of a wider systemic problem at a national and a global level. However, there are small actions on a local level which can make a difference to people’s lives. You can find opportunities to contribute to this issue on the Our Fair City website and by becoming a Fairness Champion for Sheffield.

This coming month also marks the release of Sheffield City Council’s Financial Inclusion Strategy, which focuses its efforts on ‘financial resilience’ and providing advice to individuals and families closest to the poverty line. For many people in the city, an external financial shock, like the breaking down of a washing machine, can make it impossible for them to afford the most basic of amenities, housing, food or energy. This often leads to people falling foul of high-cost, pay-day or doorstep loans or, worse, illegal lending through loan sharks. The Financial Inclusion Strategy features a ‘tool kit’ through which people can determine their financial resilience and garner advice and support, which could make the difference in the months to come and help them get out of debt.

As ever, the first stage of solving any problem is acknowledging that it exists, discussing the various implications of it and identifying actions which individuals and groups can take to advocate for change on local, national and global scales. With this in mind, we’ve included some events and resources here which might be of interest.

Money Creation

97% of money in the economy today is created by banks, whilst just 3% is created by government. Positive Money is a movement for a fair, democratic and sustainable money system, advocating for a new monetary system which shifts the burden of debt away from individuals to create a better, stronger and fairer economy for all.

positivemoney.org

Resource-Based Economy

Most notably advocated for by futurist Jacque Fresco and The Venus Project, a resource-based economy is one in which all goods and services are available to all people, without the need for a monetary system. On a micro scale, this can be seen in time banking systems, whereby people exchange skills for time, with each participant’s time valued equally.  One such time banking scheme is operated by Sheffield Creative Guild.

sheffieldcreativeguild.com | thevenusproject.com

Universal Basic Income: The Sheffield Model
Thursday 1 June | 7-9pm | Quaker Meeting house | Free   

Basic income is a regular payment made to every individual, not means tested, non-withdrawable and without work conditions. It would guarantee everyone a secure base and replace our complex benefits system with a scheme fit for the 21st century. While there are basic income pilots taking place all over the world, Britain has yet to initiate one. Could Sheffield be the first?

Fairer Money: The Need for Redistribution and Financial Wellbeing
Tuesday 20 June | 6:30-8pm | Quaker Meeting House | Free

People’s financial position and their ability to respond to unexpected events in their lives has a huge knock-on effect on physical and mental health, as well as being closely linked to unemployment and debt. What can we do to make Sheffield a fairer, more financially inclusive city? Panel discussion with Q&A.

Financial Inclusion in Sheffield

The Council’s Financial Inclusion Strategy (full document online at: bit.ly/2pW459S) aims to make local people more ‘financially resilient’. This involves providing financial education and access to information, as well as helping professionals in the city to spot the signs of financial hardship and signpost individuals to relevant support services, such as Sheffield Citizens Advice, Sheffield Credit Union and the Council’s discretionary housing payments scheme.

The strategy also aims to encourage saving, even when it’s small amounts each month, because the mere existence of savings helps us feel more in control of our finances. Extrapolating from national figures from the Financial Inclusion Commission, it is assumed that over 140,000 households in Sheffield have no savings at all.

Alongside a rise in high-cost loans, it’s no surprise that illegal money lending (‘loan sharking’) has increased in Sheffield, and the strategy recognises the importance of curbing this trend. If you or someone you know needs support or advice related to loan sharks, get in touch with the National Trading Standards Illegal Money Lending team by calling 0300 555 2222 or emailing reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk.

ourfaircity.co.uk | @FairSheffield

James Lock & Sam Walby