Poverty meeting

The Sheffield Fairness Commission, a group of representatives in Sheffield from faith, business, politics and public organisations, held it’s second meeting on Wednesday. The commission was considering the impact of poverty in the city, and how to reduce it. Evidence was given by Professor Richard Wilkinson from the Equality Trust, Dean of Sheffield Cathedral Peter Bradley, and Deven Ghelani from the centre for Social Justice.

Richard Wilkinson talking to the Sheffield Fairness Commission

Professor Wilkinson set out evidence showing how countries with lower gaps between the low and high paid have less social and health problems, and greater life chances for those in poverty. He then explained this was because income and wealth was the main way people can judge their social position; saying that social status is really important. In evolutionary terms, the one with the lowest rank got the last turn at the food, the last turn to mate. A recent study in Glasgow found that whether you had friends was more important for your health than whether you smoked. If we find ourselves with low social status then not only will it cause us stress, but our genetic tendencies will adapt to suit; we are pre-programmed to find low social status very disagreeable.

Professor Wilkinson recommended the Fairness Commission push for a Living Wage across Sheffield, a minimum of £7.20 per hour, and to argue for the publishing of the pay differences between the highest and lowest paid workers in organisations and business. The publishing of pay differences would highlight where top executives are being selfish. With the UK being one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, professor Wilkinson said is was vital people realise that this is not just altruism on behalf of the poor – this is about all of us. Apart from the very top, social position affects the health and wellbeing of everyone.

Dean Peter Bradley gave evidence that people on low incomes face paying an extra £1300 a year on the goods they buy, called the “poverty premium”. This is partly because people on low incomes have to buy things on credit and get stuck with the interest. The Dean said that a Sheffield mutual needed to be established, which would offer very small loans to people and small businesses, to help them out in times of need. The Dean also proposed the city needed a shared understanding of fairness, which would help bring people together, get a better understanding of the problems people face, and how to solve them.

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