At the end of January the Sheffield Fairness Commission released its final report. The Commission was a group of people from faith groups, political parties, business and the voluntary sector who gave their time to consider how life in Sheffield might not be fair now and how we can make it fairer. They got evidence from groups across the city, from experts and practitioners, held public meetings and consultation, then boiled it all down to an 86-page report.

“But who are they to decide what is fair and what not? Isn’t this just another waste of cash? So people on one side of the city die ten years earlier than those on the other side. So people miss out on education, healthcare and employment. Life isn’t fair. Get over it.”

The reaction to the report was not universally welcoming, but the Fairness Commission should be judged on its practical impact and there are many practical proposals. Here are just three:

1. “Communities are supported with the necessary skills and information to recognise health concerns and have the confidence to seek advice and support from health services. This should include removing barriers to services which are disproportionally experienced by some communities.”

Mary’s husband has had heart problems, but he can’t stay off the steaks and cigarettes. She doesn’t want the silly sod to drop dead but the health service is full of red tape and jargon. Then a leaflet drops through the door that isn’t worded like it’s from another planet and there is a contact number. A community health champion scheme that worked in Darnall could be what they need. After a bit, hubby ends up a born-again health salesman.

2. “All schools in Sheffield recognise, identify and support young carers as a vulnerable group of young people who have a right to an education, aspiration and achievement and to ensure a successful career and adulthood.”

Hassan is a carer like 2,000 other children in Sheffield. Mum lost the use of her legs after an illness. Her cheery “look on the bright side” facade falls flat on the doorstep. She cries on his shoulder sometimes. As the other lads at school have fun together, Hassan shops, cooks and cleans. This is what he does and who he is. Schoolwork goes undone. There’s no point. Then the headmaster calls Hassan in to chat about being a carer and what he’d like out of life. “I wanna be a qualified nurse – something like that – help people like my mum”. The head is respectful and supportive, and that makes all the difference.

3. “Proposing a sustainable, incentive-based model to the government, whereby Sheffield is able to retain a proportion of the savings resulting from reducing the number of people in need of benefit as we support people to access jobs.”

Sam is deciding on what service to fund with Council money. On the one hand is a tick box service from a big provider. They’ll get lots of people seen and meet some targets but have very little effect. On the other is a local charity that would only see a few people as they build relationships and help them sort out their lives. Now the Council gets the money if clients really do move off benefits – money to spend on more services – so going for the tick box option doesn’t make sense anymore. Sam opts for the local service that produces real results.

But these are just stories. One of the recommendations is that “Sheffield should prioritise… a high quality Early Years experience for all children”. After a government grant was cut this year, Sheffield Council reduced funding for early years services by half. The Fairness Commission has all sorts of challenges in front of it, not least that it relies on organisations across the city recognising the value of its recommendations. They have sent letters to every major organisation asking for a response to what the report says. But words are cheap.

You might say that life just isn’t fair, but you could say that about having free access to healthcare, about universal schooling, about everyone having the vote. Making people’s lives better is always a good thing to do. There are a lot of good ideas about how to do it and a lot of people who’d like to help. The Fairness Commission has set out a way forward and it might make getting there a little easier, but the rest is up to us.

Sheffield Equality Group Meeting – Wednesday 3rd April, 7pm at Sheffield Quaker Meeting House

Meeting about cuts to social care and support – Thursday 11th April, 6.30pm at Sheffield Quaker Meeting House

sheffield.gov.uk/fairnesscommission 

Indices of Multiple Deprivation - Sheffield 83 Bus Route - Life Expectancy

Jason Leman.