Economic inequality is all our responsibility

It’s sad to hear that Equality West Midlands is going to become inactive for the foreseeable future. But I hope this decision becomes the catalyst for a greater profile for income inequality in the rest of our work. The group has only ceased its activities because its members are keen, committed activists in other groups and just ran out of time for this newer one-issue group. Like them, we share responsibility for addressing income equality through the rest of our activism.

Inequality is a major symptom of the centralised, remotely owned and parasitic economy that neoliberalism has created for us, and provenly a cause of social and environmental ills. Addressing it is a major driver of the work Localise WM does towards an economy in which we all share power and ownership. Needless to say, the so-called austerity agenda is not improving matters: rough sleeping has doubled in the UK since 2010; and debts and low, insecure incomes are leaving people vulnerable to economic shocks. The Divide Film, on general release in April, gives us an opportunity to raise the issue publicly.

Whether or not there’s an active local Equality group, we all have to remember how economic inequality affects everything we work on, and make it central to the progressive alternatives we’re proposing and a driver of political engagement – both in the West Midlands and across the UK.

Karen Leach

Dear friends,

This is probably one of the hardest emails I’ve ever had to write, but a necessary one.

Last month, the Equality West Midlands committee decided that the group should no longer be active. The main reason for this decision was due to other commitments taking up of the committee’s time and energy. It was also felt that over the course of nearly five years, the group has done all it can to promote the cause of reducing income inequality in the West Midlands region.

Equality West Midlands has had a good run: we’ve held several big events including debates and talks involving key writers on income inequality; we took part in the A41 Photography Project; we met politicians including former MP Clare Short and Birmingham City Council cabinet member John Cotton; we attended the Council’s Social Inclusion Commission meetings; members ran workshops on aspects of inequality at two Quaker conferences; we even held a picnic! Finally, over the last year, our work with Compass West Midlands has developed into the West Midlands Politics of Networks which has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of people and organisations involved.

During that time, the public have been made aware of the problem- locally, regionally and nationally. Local media often focus on the consequences of high inequality in Birmingham, whilst there have been several TV programmes concentrating on tax havens, the lives of the poorest in our society, and the effects on health. Surveys of public opinion frequently show that inequality is rising up in people’s concerns.

With other issues in the spotlight, though, it remains to be seen whether the media, the public and politicians will continue to take the problem seriously. Nevertheless, there is still scope for campaigning work: for example, on promoting a Living Wage. If there are groups and individuals in Birmingham who would like to do work around these issues, Equality West Midlands will be more than happy to support them.

There are a number of people I’d like to thank for their contributions to the development of Equality West Midlands:

  • The staff of the Priory Rooms, a venue where EWM held so many of their meetings;
  • Richard Wilkinson, Danny Dorling, Stewart Lansley, Joy Warmington, Clare Short and Professor Karen Rowlinson for taking the time to speak to the group;
  • Councillors James Mackay and John Cotton for taking a real interest in the group’s views;
  • Karen Leach, head of Localise West Midlands, who has always supported the group;
  • Bill Kerry from The Equality Trust who’s supported the group from Day One;
  • Everybody who’s ever joined the Facebook group, followed us on Twitter, received our emails, taken a leaflet, talked to us or attended one of our events!
  • Finally, the man who had the idea to start the group, Chris Burgess, deserves thanks.

Special thanks goes to Gilly Cooper, Shaz Rahman and Barbara and David Forbes: every one of these four was at the first ever meeting of the group on June 1st 2011 and has been a constant for EWM. I am sincerely grateful for their work, support and, fundamentally, friendship.

Over the last five years, I’ve personally learnt a lot about income inequality: how it has developed; the immediate consequences; alternative ways of working that could reduce the problem. The field of income inequality can feel like an overwhelming subject because there are so many layers to it- there is no magic bullet solution, and even the smallest of improvements may require a complete overhaul of mind-sets and government policy before we can make headway.

When I first joined the group, I felt that inequality was at the roots of everything wrong with British society. Now, though, I know it is. I hope that Equality West Midlands will in the future become active once again, but in the meantime, will continue to struggle in other ways to reduce inequality- and I hope Equality West Midlands supporters will do the same.

See you down the road,

Tom Pratt (Chair)