Attendees of The Equality Trust’s fourth annual Local Groups Day met with mixed feelings: on the one hand, economic inequality was a subject covered by most political parties in their general election manifesto; on the other hand, the Emergency Budget saw George Osborne “steal” the Living Wage, dressing up one of inequality campaigner’s most revered ideas in Conservative clothes. Perhaps the likes of Citizens UK should be flattered that the Chancellor has paid attention, but it does leave a dilemma of where to go next.
The day was opened by Sean Blaine, the Chair of the TET board, who talked about the main changes in the organisation of The Equality Trust over the past year: the big thing is that TET is now an official charity! Sean handed over to Executive Director Duncan Exley who talked about the huge amount of work done by TET- and the surprising partners. Yes, Duncan has had meetings with, amongst other organisations, KPMG and investment funds- some would have thought these would be the last bodies to be concerned about economic inequality.
Local Groups Day 2015 was held at the NCVO building in London, and our room had a rather lovely backdrop; also, on occasion, we could hear some very loud swans, the canal’s main clientele.
Other members of the TET team are doing great work: John Hood has been getting TET in the press at least once a week, whilst Bill Kerry has overseen the increase in the number of active local groups- Reading, Frome, Northampton, Colchester and the East Midlands are the latest additions to the family. New trustees, and the forthcoming release of Spirit Level-inspired documentary ‘The Divide’, should also help towards spreading the message about the harm of economic inequality: although more British are prioritising the subject, it’s still being crowded out by topics such as the economy, immigration, health, Europe…
To that end, Duncan unveiled TET’s strategy for the next 5 years: it involves working with the grain of government policies, whilst trying to influence decision-making and policies at all levels of national, regional and local government, as well as those of employers and investors. The ‘Make My Council Fair’ campaign, to be discussed shortly, is a big part of the strategy.
After Duncan’s presentation, attendees, who had been organised into groups, were invited to discuss the strategy and how it could be put into practise. A common theme around my table was that talking about economic inequality should be linked more strongly with real public concerns about, say, the decline of living standards. It was also felt that activists should try to reclaim words and phrases, and redefine them: “aspiration”, for example, has acquired a very specific definition thanks to right-wing commentators, but, surely, it’s obvious that inequality actually blocks aspiration on so many levels- we must point this out at any and every opportunity.
Don’t worry, I did actually take part in discussions! Thanks to Salim for taking the photo 🙂
Lunchtime provided an opportunity for myself and Shaz to speak with fellow activists from across the country. We were also treated during the lunch hour to an exclusive trailer for ‘The Divide’. This trailer was so absorbing, briefly telling the varied stories of people across the Western world, that I was stunned when the video went black!
The afternoon agenda was all about the ‘Make My Council Fair’ campaign. Bill Kerry hopes that local groups will challenge their local councils on a number of issues such as whether they, and the firms they use as subcontractors, pay a Living Wage; pay ratios; whether councils spend on indirect measures that reduce inequality such as imposing a 20 mph speed limit… Bill then dispatched the activists into new groups to discuss how to build a campaign.
The second table, on which both myself and Shaz found ourselves, spent a long time discussing the best ways of building alliances with similar-minded groups. Allen from Equality North West described how the group had come to be regarded as the go-to for research and analysis by a whole chain of groups operating in Manchester: yes, the process of developing contacts and relationships seemed as ruthless as Simon Cowell on the X-Factor, but it’s worth it when a whole series of hustings can be run across an entire city in a harmonious and effective manner. A third table concentrated on appealing to decision-makers- this doesn’t just include your council, you could also approach local businesses. Additionally, we discussed the need to avoid making assumptions: you may find common ground with people you never expected to! Other groups emphasised the need to operate through a variety of mediums, and for any campaign to be as relevant to the local area as possible.
Everyone came away tired but motivated to go away and put our discussions in practice. This was my third time attending TET’s Local Groups Day and was easily the best thus far. I’d like to thank: Bill and the rest of the team for putting on a great event; everyone I met for being awesome and, last but not least, Shaz for joining me in flying the EWM flag!
After the event had concluded, we all went to a nearby pub and continued the discussions. Salim Yakub (l) recently set up a group in Reading- Shaz and myself hope we gave him some useful pointers!