Inequality must be tackled together say North East's most influential

THE call has gone out for people of the region to sign a “January Declaration” aimed at tackling the North East’s shameful record of inequality.

Mike Parker, former Nexus chief executive and non executive director of the Northumbria Healthcare Trust and Alastair Balls, chairman of Northern Rock Foundation

THE call has gone out for people of the region to sign a “January Declaration” aimed at tackling the North East’s shameful record of inequality.

Some of the region’s largest employers, charities and heads of businesses have teamed up with cross-party support and religious leaders to set out what must be done to improve the living standards for all, including a look at the pay gap between the highest and lowest earners.

The Webb Memorial Trust, a charity pushing for greater socially equality, is co-ordinating efforts after 27 of the region’s most influential people signed a joint letter setting out how everyone must work together.

That letter includes warnings over the long-term problems of allowing those who earn less to be treated as a burden to the region. Those signing are calling on people across the North East to back the declaration, available below, and then work together to outline the key aims which will have to be met to tackle deep-rooted problems of poverty and worklessness.

Early backers include Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, former Metro boss Mike Parker, now honorary secretary at the Webb Memorial trust, Alastair Balls, chair of the Northern Rock Foundation, Susan Bickerton, head of veterans and offenders charity Norcare and Erica Whyman, chief executive at arts venue Northern Stage. Their joint letter warns that with further council and Government cuts due in April the region and its young people and pensioners are set to be hit hardest. The signatories say the new jobless and the longer-term unemployed should not be made a scapegoat.

The letter says: “In these extremely challenging times, people in positions of responsibility have to lead by example.

“Shareholders and local politicians institutions and individuals need to recognise that extreme differentials in pay and rewards between top earners and the rest, whether in the private or public sectors, sends out the wrong signals to the vast majority.

“Ultimately, this is bad for business while undermining a cohesive society.”

Mr Parker, one of those who put the declaration together, said: “A group of us had become concerned at a number of trends, increasing inequality between those at the top and those on the bottom salary scales within organisations, increasing inequality in both investment and prosperity between North and South of the country, and how these compound poverty in the North East.

“We deplore the tendency in lean times such as these to try to pin the blame for our economic ills on those who often suffer the most – the unemployed, those on benefits, young single mothers, immigrants, asylum seekers or those in poverty in general.

“Everyone in our region should be treated with dignity regardless of what they happen to own or earn.

“We hope this will stimulate discussions on what needs to be done in our region to make it stronger and fairer.”

Anyone wanting to add their name to the declaration should email webb@cranehouse.eu

WHO HAS SIGNED UP TO THE DECLARATION

Signatories are

Alastair Balls, chairman of the Northern Rock Foundation
Lord Michael Bates
Lord Jeremy Beecham
Ranjana Bell, executive director of RBA Equality & Diversity Ltd
Stephen Bell, chief executive of The Cyrenians
Susan Bickerton, head of Norcare
Alma Caldwell, chief executive of Age UK, North Tyneside
Paul Callaghan, chairman, ONE
Kevan Carrick, partner at JK Property Consultants
Mary Coyle, chairwoman of North Tyneside Primary Care Trust
Jeremy Cripps, chief executive of Children North East
Jo Curry, chief executive, Voluntary Organisations North East
Jonathan Edwards, TV presenter
Hannah Eyres, chief executive of Keyfund
Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham
The Venerable Bob Langley
Jeremy Middleton, venture capitalist
John Mowbray, president of the North East Chamber of Commerce
Mike Parker, honorary secretary Webb Memorial Trust
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of North East Chamber of Commerce
Kevin Rowan, general secretary, regional TUC
Lord John Shipley
Jane Streather, chairwoman of Millfield House Foundation
Rt Reverend Martin Wharton, Bishop of Newcastle
Ashley Winter, chairmanof the Community Foundation
Mike Worthington, former chief probation officer, Northumbria
Erica Whyman, chief executive of Northern Stage.

Page 2 - Read the full declaration letter >>

A January Declaration for the North East 

A new and fairer deal

As we enter the New Year with uncertainty over the prospects for the economy, it is predicted that the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent in this region are likely to fall by 12 per cent. Many more could join the unemployment queue if the economy contracts further, particularly if the Euro crisis hurts our trading partners at a time when more spending cuts affect the public sector.  North east local authorities could be hit hard and children, young people and poorer pensioners are vulnerable.

Amid such tough conditions, we need to recognise that poverty is a feature of a weak society and that even those in work - let alone the tens of thousands jobless - can sometimes live below the poverty line as living standards fall. They need not only our sympathy but also, where necessary, our help.

This new reality, we are sure, will be recognised in a region with a tradition of standing together when times get tough. Those out of work, and dependent on benefit - the new jobless, and the longer-term unemployed - need to be treated with respect.  No one should be made a scapegoat, as blaming the victims of society's failure solves nothing.

In Scotland, for instance, politicians have put aside their differences to view poverty as an enemy corroding the heart of society. They realise the importance of treating all people with dignity, regardless of income, gender, race, status and background but more is needed in the north east.

We all must pull together to create a better region - companies, charities, local councils, universities, colleges, schools, civil society and individuals - through self-help and, crucially, through pressing the government where necessary for a better deal by allocating scarce resources on a fair and equitable basis across England to ensure a level economic playing field.

In these extremely challenging times, people in positions of responsibility also have to lead by example. Shareholders and local politicians - institutions and individuals - need to recognise that extreme differentials in pay and rewards between top earners and the rest, whether in the private or public sectors, sends out the wrong signals to the vast majority. Ultimately, this is bad for business while undermining a cohesive society.

The north east has much strength - human and natural resources, world-beating research institutions, innovative local authorities, strong local companies, ambitious young people and graduates, social entrepreneurs - which can be harnessed for the benefit of everyone.

Let us pledge in 2012  - in this  'January Declaration' - to work together for the benefit of the region and press, where necessary, for a fair deal from the Government to ensure that we can all play our part in making England, and Britain, stronger and fairer as a whole.

The January declaration means that we will:

- Work together to create a North East, which is good for everyone

- Treat everyone in the region with dignity, regardless of economic status

- Press for a fair deal from Government for this region

:: If you are living in, or are from the North East please add your support by sending us your full contact details in an email to webb@cranehouse.eu putting “I support the January Declaration” in the subject line.

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