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Leading the fight for fairness

In Plymouth, as in much of the rest of UK, empty homes purchased as second properties or speculative investments are a growing problem – a waste of resources given the lack of available primary housing, and a cause of deep resentment and fragmentation in communities.

By setting up a Fairness Commission – which makes recommendations for reducing inequality and poverty – this problem was identified and is now being fixed.

Plymouth Council is working to end injustices caused by empty homes through a mix of advice, support and action. It prefers to work with owners to bring properties back into use voluntarily, but also has the ability to enforce sale or management of them. They are now sending a clear message that leaving a property empty is simply not an option.

Across the UK, since June 2010, local government has been supporting similar shifts, resulting in thousands more people receiving a living wage, boosted membership of credit unions, improved accessibility of advice services and changed practices in the private rental sector and payday loan market.

While chancellor George Osborne’s recently announced national living wage falls short of actual Living Wage level, it is evidence that the activities of local government – in this case working with the Living Wage Foundation to incrementally implement the living wage – can impact national policy culture too.

‘Fairness Commissions have helped pushed the issues of inequality and poverty onto the agenda. But the policies that have been implemented as a result would have greatest impact if introduced on a national level’

Some 23 local councils have now set-up their own Fairness Commissions, driving forward this renewed focus on the challenge of inequality and developing fresh solutions in partnership with residents and other local organisations.

new report by the New Economics Foundation describes four approaches which achieved most progress on reducing inequality and poverty:

  • Supporting social justice campaigns such as the Living Wage Campaign, Just Money, Sharkstoppers, and Timewise
  • Exposing and ending injustices, for example in housing, employment, and debt
  • Supporting collective activities in order to reduce the cost of living and encourage mutual support, for example by organising energy switches and supporting parent-led nurseries
  • Opening up local services, by improving the availability and accessibility of (most commonly) childcare and advice services

In line with the recommendations of its Fairness Commission, Tower Hamlets Council took steps to ban advertising for payday loan companies from council-owned property and billboards, and to prevent new loan companies opening in the borough through planning restrictions. They supported the Just Money campaign, which campaigns against exploitative practices in the financial sector and promotes ethical and local forms of credit such as credit unions.

Fairness Commissions have helped push the issues of inequality and poverty onto the agenda. But the policies that have been implemented as a result would have greatest impact if introduced on a national level. For example, establishing a landlord register nationally could improve the standard of privately rented homes across the country.

The achievements of these commissions give local government a platform to campaign for this important national action.

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