The Sheffield Fairness Commission was established by Sheffield City Council to look at the nature, causes and impact of inequality across the city and to make recommendations for tackling them.

Since then the Our Fair City Campaign has been responsible, overseen by the Partnership Board, for pursuing the vision that Sheffield “is eventually free from damaging disparities in living conditions and life chances, and free from stigmatising discrimination and prejudice, a place in which every citizen and community knows and feels that they will be treated fairly. We aspire to be the fairest city in the country.”

Despite the adverse national context, including severe Government cuts to local authority spending,  there has been notable progress in just a few short years. For example, the campaign has worked with a group of private-sector employers to develop a Fair Employer Charter for Sheffield, setting out how our city expects its companies to treat the people who work for them.

The campaign has also developed a Fairer Food Charter, which identifies our priorities for Sheffield’s food system, and a set of Fair Food Chain Standards, aimed specifically at food producers, suppliers and retailers.

Sheffield Money was launched in 2015, establishing an ethical and affordable loan scheme on a not-for-profit basis. Supported by Sheffield City Council and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, it was hailed in the national press as a highly innovative approach to the widespread problem of loan sharks preying on the poorest families which could be worth £20 million to some of Sheffield’s poorest residents. Membership of the Sheffield Credit Union has grown by 30% since the last report, while its loan book has also grown by 21% to just under £1.3 million.

Our Fair City is now also developing A Manifesto For A Fairer Future, involving young people in shaping a fairer vision of their city ten years from now.

In the 12 months, the Our Fair Campaign has worked with communities of interest covering sustainable food initiatives, the food bank network, the voluntary sector, youth charities, Chamber of Commerce and both Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield. Discussions are currently underway to explore the potential of a centralised surplus food depot to support food initiatives in the city.

Recent events have included ‘Forging Fairness in Fir Vale’, involving a panel with a local councillor and community members, and ‘The Importance of Voice in the Roma Community’, examining what fairness means for the Roma community in Sheffield. Over 40 short animations have been commissioned from students on the campaign’s priority areas through the Sheffield Hallam Digital Media course.

We have made progress, but closing the gap is not easy. It is also made harder by the downturn in the economy. According to a recent report by Dr David Etherington and Professor Martin Jones, Sheffield City Region lost £1.19bn through welfare cuts and loss of income between 2010 and 2015. Stark inequalities still exist:

● 20% of people in Sheffield are in poverty.
● 25% of children in Sheffield are in poverty – but in Ecclesall ward just 3.3% of children live in poverty, whereas in Firth Park it is nearly 43%.
● Over half the people in poverty are in ‘in-work’ poverty, in a household with at least one person working. In Sheffield, this is predominantly in the retail, hospitality and care sectors.
● We have 60,000 more people qualified for level 4 jobs (requiring a degree or equivalent) than we have such jobs available. We have over 40,000 people doing level 2 jobs (GCSE grades A* to C or equivalent) who are qualified for level 3 (A levels or equivalent) and level 4 jobs. We continue to have far too many people whose qualifications are at level 1 (GCSE grades D to G or equivalent).
● The life expectancy gap between the ‘affluent’ and ‘deprived’ parts of Sheffield is still too large at 9 to 10 years. This rises to as much as 16 years when neighbourhoods are the measuring unit.

We can do so much more – and so much better. The Government must show leadership on this and therefore we are asking that the representatives of all political parties in the coming General Election commit themselves to ensuring the following for the people of Sheffield:

● Publicly support and advocate the Cohesion Strategic Framework and action plans to make the city more socially inclusive.
● Be active in getting more employers signed up to our Fair Employer Charter and ensure we move towards ending zero-hours contracts in Sheffield and paying a minimum wage of £10 an hour.
● Make the financial case for inclusion by undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of anti-poverty measures and the public expenditure savings that can be made.
● Embed the work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Anti-Poverty Initiatives and Sheffield City Council’s Anti-Poverty Strategy.
● Challenge some of the pernicious elements of the Universal Credit System and redesign the claimant agreement to reduce the level of benefit sanctions and ensure interventions are made early and appropriately.
● Increase access to apprenticeships and make sure that the skills package in any City Region deal is fit-for-purpose and appropriate for the most disadvantaged and hard-to-reach groups.
● Adopt the measures proposed in Sheffield’s Financial Inclusion Strategy and target support where it is most needed. Increase activity to stop loan sharks and increase access to affordable credit.
● Finally, we invite each candidate in this election to sign up as a Fairness Champion, becoming an ambassador for the Our Fair City Campaign and its aims.

ourfaircity.co.uk
@FairSheffield

Jane Thomas

Dear Parliamentary Candidates,

The forthcoming General Election is one of the most important in living memory.

At stake is not only the headline issue of Britain’s relationship with Europe but, for the majority of citizens, the more pressing issues of their future livelihoods and the kinds of society and communities they live in.

Britain is more divided, along various lines, than it has ever been. The same is true of our city, a city that had hitherto been regarded, and felt like, a highly cohesive one. This election must be about how we can ensure that Sheffield’s divisions are mended and that it once again becomes a model of inclusiveness and tolerance.

The Sheffield Fairness Commission showed the way forward and set a bold aspiration for Sheffield to be the ‘fairest city in Britain’. Since then my colleagues and I on the Fair City Advisory Group have been working closely with various public, private and voluntary organisations in the city to try to progress that aspiration.

It hasn’t been easy, but progress has been made, despite the adverse economic context. A debate has been started in many different parts of the city about what ‘fairness’ means in practice.

Now, as the General Election looms, we invite all Parliamentary candidates to come on board and make a solid commitment to the aims of the Our Fair City Campaign.

The briefing below contains further details about the achievements of the campaign so far and our ‘ask’ of you as candidates. Please join us and make fairness in Sheffield a major focus of the General Election.

Professor Alan Walker – Chair, Fair City Advisory Group