by Debbie Abrahams MP
There is overwhelming evidence of the effects inequality can have on how well we do at school, what types of jobs we get, and how long we will live. Even happiness and trust is enhanced in more equal societies.
This is why I set up the Oldham Fairness Commission (OFC) in 2013. The Commission focused on identifying the causes of local inequalities in education, employment, income and population groups and to define action to address the issues.
Oldham is a wonderful place to live and work, but it is a fact that certain groups of people do better than others. I was under no illusion that 12 years after (at the time the OFC was established) the riots that hit our town, and the Cantle report identified inequalities between Asian and British heritage communities as a key factor, how sensitive this issue was. But I was determined not to shy away from the problem.
I was joined by Commissioners from a cross section of local organisations, from the public, voluntary and private sector, invited to take part based on their professional expertise and their personal commitment to helping build a fairer Oldham.
The OFC analysed evidence and data from expert witnesses at four oral hearings, as well as written evidence submissions. Following the hearings the commissioners and I produced a final report in March 2015.
The report showed that:
• If you come from a low income household, you are less likely to do well at school, with white boys on free school meals performing the worst of all.
• If you are of Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage, you are 30% less likely to be in work than someone of British heritage.
• If you are working woman you will be paid on average 20% less than a male colleague doing an equivalent job.
• If you have a disability you are 30% less likely to be in work than a non-disabled person.
• 1 in 3 jobs in Oldham pay less than the living wage.
• There’s more than an 11year life expectancy ‘gap’ between men who live in the most and least deprived borough areas.
There is no greater inequality and injustice than knowing that you are likely to die sooner just because you’re poor. What we now know is that by reducing these inequalities, particularly in income, not only do disadvantaged people do better, but the rest of society does better too. Evidence has shown that educational attainment, social mobility, crime levels as well as life expectancy all improve in more equal societies.
Following the publication of the report, I hosted a conference at Mahdlo, in January 2016 to look at how we could put the recommendations from the OFC report into action. The Oldham Fairness Commission hearings and conference were open to everyone to attend and it was great to see so many people get involved. This included experts, the public and young people including school pupils from a local primary school who had us sweating with their tough questions!
The conference was a culmination of months of hard work by the commissioners, and their chance to share with the public the ‘roadmaps’ they had produced which was the first steps towards us all working together to build a fairer Oldham.
We are now following up on those first steps and actions. I was proud that during the recent general election, Jim McMahon (MP for Oldham West and Royton), Angela Rayner (MP for Ashton), Oldham Council Leader, Jean Stretton and I pledged to work together to make Oldham a Real Living Wage borough – a key pledge of the OFC.
It’s only by working together that local agencies will be able to pinpoint the best use of scarce resources to tackle some of the most ingrained inequalities in our borough. Fairer more equal societies benefit us all and that is what the OFC set out to do.
Read more about the Oldham Fairness Commission on my website here.
Debbie Abrahams MP
Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth
Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions