IN BARNET Council, they call it the "graph of doom". It shows
that, if nothing else changes, the cost of local-government social
care will consume the entire council budget by 2028. At the same
time as pressures rise on expenditure, pressures on income are even
more worrying: some are even predicting that, in the coming years,
local government will face a cut of up to 40 per cent in its budget
from the national pot.
It is against this background that a number of councils -
Newcastle, York, Islington, Blackpool - have set up Fairness
Commissions, in part to look at what fairness can look like for a
community when austerity has so much further to go. This week, I
began chairing one for Tower Hamlets, in east London.
Richard Wilkinson, the co-author of The Spirit Level
(Penguin, 2010), is the inspiration behind a great deal of the
Fairness Commission project. The basic idea of his book is that
equality is good not just for the least well off, but for all of
society, including the wealthy. Even the rich suffer when there is
a huge gap between rich and poor. This is because inequality erodes
community and communal trust.
On so many levels - health, levels of violence, happiness - a
less equal society fails. Tower Hamlets is probably one of the most
unequal places in Europe. It has the highest rate of child poverty
in the country, and yet the average income of those who work in the
borough is £58,000 - the average! And to explain: Canary Wharf is
in Tower Hamlets.
Professor Wilkinson chaired the Islington Fairness Commission,
which recommended that the council pay its lowest-paid staff the
London Living Wage as a minimum (Comment, 2 November). Tower
Hamlets already does this. Indeed, the thing of which I am probably
most proud at St Paul's was that I persuaded the cathedral to do
the same. This week, the London Living Wage went up to £8.55.
One question is how to pay for all of this, and indeed pay for
so much that the local authority does to help a community to
flourish. But going on from here is the issue how to encourage the
community to develop deeper resources of resilience (a big policy
buzz-word in local government) to withstand the deepening effects
This, of course, is where churches, mosques, and other religious
organisations come in. But it is also where business comes in.
Unless the bankers of Canary Wharf want to look out of their huge
glass towers on to a sea of surrounding poverty, from whose anger
they will inevitably need protecting, they must see this as their
Canon Giles Fraser is Priest-in-Charge of St Mary's,
Newington, in the diocese of Southwark.