Leeds is a thriving and successful city. Looking across the city skyline from my office, it is scattered with cranes and evidence of further development. However, as I look towards some of our inner city neighbourhoods, I see little or no impact of this success on the lives of its residents.
We continue to be challenged by inequalities. New jobs and opportunities tend not to touch the lives of young people growing up in inner city areas. The success of the city conjures up images of a mushroom, with success at the core spilling to the outside, leaving a doughnut of deprivation in inner city areas.
For the first time, the majority of people living in poverty are in employment. Low wages and zero hour contracts are cutting into the quality of lives of our families. Parents are bringing up children in an environment where providing adequate food, clothing and heating is a challenge. The uptake and increase in dependency on foodbanks is providing a lifeline, but is also developing a culture of dependency.
Leeds as a city has seen a considerable improvement to its infrastructure but there is still no easy access to the centre of Leeds from our inner city neighbourhoods. Health inequalities are also a challenge: growing up in some areas gives you a life expectancy gap of 10 years compared to other neighbourhoods.
‘The city conjures up images of a mushroom, with success at the core
spilling to the outside, leaving a doughnut of deprivation in inner city areas’
Education and attainment in these areas tends to be lower than city average and, although many inner city schools have improved dramatically over the past few years, they continue to be challenged by young people with dramatically lower than average attendance and attainment.
At Barca, through our work with young people we know that they do not have low aspirations, but that their environment has not equipped them with the skills to navigate the education system effectively and compete for better paid opportunities.
Tackling inequalities is a national challenge, and in a Leeds context, it is essential that we continue to support families to maximise their income.
We need to recognise that many of these issues are structural however; many of the solutions are centrally controlled and bear little relationship to the challenges that people at a local level face.
Services, then, need to develop a sense of place, understanding that the needs of a locality varies from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Communities themselves can often develop better solutions and tackle significant issues that affect their day-to-day lives.
Perhaps we need to look creatively at using resources like pupil premium in neighbourhoods to develop community capacity to support our young people to achieve. Microfinance has been used very effectively in the third world and in inner city London. Perhaps we could develop new initiatives that can support entrepreneurial support in those communities. Recognising that people with multiple and complex needs will not necessarily be able to meet the expectations of any employer, perhaps we should consider re-developing supported employment opportunities.
Leeds council is now ensuring that services can better respond to people with low incomes. The development of One Stop Community Hubs has improved access to support and advice and these centres have quickly become overwhelmed with demand.
There are new initiatives such as social prescribing, under the name of PEP (Patient Empowerment Programme). This has enabled vulnerable people to better navigate their health needs, reduce their social isolation and improve their emotional wellbeing. Their dependency on GPs has been reduced and some using the service have been able to re-engage in employment.
Recently, we undertook a cost benefit analysis on two estates and we calculated that we could generate up to £1m savings in public service expenditure if we were able to support 60 long term unemployed people into employment.
In the current environment, we need to seek local solutions to local problems and develop new pathways into work to ensure that services can respond to multiple needs.
We also need to reverse the tendency to place our least experienced staff at the front end of services. People experiencing multiple issues need the support from highly skilled experienced staff to ensure that together we achieve better solutions.
We recognise that we do not have all the answers and the community will often find better solutions for themselves, particularly if we invest time listening to them and enabling them to find their own solutions.
Mark Law is chief executive of Barca Leeds