How devolution could close social inequality gap in Leeds

Civic leaders have claimed devolution to ‘One Yorkshire’ is the only way Leeds can make in-roads into the gulf of social inequality.
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Emma Ryan interviews Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to look at whether devolved powers have helped ease social inequality across the Pennines.

“With devolution you get much closer to people and communities and see the reality of people’s lives in a way that Whitehall never can. Leeds has been doing what it needs to do and the voice is getting stronger and louder. I like it.”

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Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the former health secretary, is one of those voices backing the case for devolution in Leeds.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester.Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

In an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post he claims the government “looks down on everybody and can’t see the reality” while also calling for the forthcoming General Election to bring radical change rather than a “rearranging of the deckchairs”.

The scathing remarks come as part of the YEP’s A City Divided series, which has looked at issues of social inequality in Leeds and the solution, to which Leeds City Council has constantly suggested, is devolution.

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Devolution benefits

The Yorkshire Evening Post's City Divided campaign looks at how Leeds is becoming a tale of two cities.The Yorkshire Evening Post's City Divided campaign looks at how Leeds is becoming a tale of two cities.
The Yorkshire Evening Post's City Divided campaign looks at how Leeds is becoming a tale of two cities.

Taking closer control, he says allows an authority to get to the root of problems and in just two years he says Manchester is already starting to see the benefits.

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Burnham said: “It is starting to make a difference. When you start to build change from the bottom up, with devolution you get much closer to people and communities and see the reality of people’s lives in a way that Whitehall never can.

“They are looking down on everybody and can’t see the reality of people’s lives. They don’t know what it is like to be in Beeston and that is part of the problem of the way we have tried to run everything for a couple of hundred years.”

He referred to the ‘bedroom tax’, a rule under the British Welfare Reform Act 2012 where tenants living in council or social housing with a spare room were deducted Housing Benefit. He said it was clear why people end up with health and work challenges and subsequently, being homeless.

Burnham says: “Homelessness is the most visible sign of extreme inequality that we have. We have looked at that a different way and not waited for the government – they never will.”

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He explains Greater Manchester has got health services to look at inequality and issues of drugs, smoking and alcohol that are connected to that.

Working Well

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has created the ‘Working Well’ programme which includes services under Greater Manchester’s devolved employment and health offer. It works with long-term unemployed to help them get the right support such as substance misuse help, housing or mental health to set them on the right path to work.

Following a pilot it was expanded and aimed to support 2500 into work by December 2019. It achieved this 18 months earlier than expected, with nearly 3000 in work by December 2018.

It has since been further expanded to support people with health conditions or disabilities who are at risk of losing work, or are newly unemployed due to health complications or disabilities.

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In addition, smoking levels are down and the level of physical activity among Manchester people is three times the national average.

“Working Well is one of the unsung successes of devolution in Greater Manchester,” adds Burnham.

“We have a team dealing with people on a very personal basis. If we were to generalise what we have done different, mental health support is much more central in the package, more linked to voluntary organisations and one to one support.

“It is more intense but achieved double the success rate than the national programme.

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“We have a motto central to everything we do – ‘names not numbers’. On a scale like ours you can adopt that. It is big, but not so big you lose sight of individuals.”

Both ends of the telescope

It is a somewhat surprising stance to take given his recent jobs. Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from 2008 to 2009. Secretary of State for Health from 2009 to 2010. Member of Parliament for Leigh from 2001 to 2017.

He explains: “I have experience from both ends of the telescope. The difference between my old job and this job is, in Whitehall you can have a vision for health services, in Greater Manchester you can have a vision for people’s health.

“A reactive service does not allow it to make the connections we do. Early intervention, education, homelessness – in this job I can join the dots together between those different areas.”

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However, he says the biggest challenge has been the level of funding attributed to authorities for devolution and trying to implement a whole new way of governance while at the same time providing a continuous service in the background.

More than ten years to close the gap

As well as questioning how credible the government’s advocation of devolution is, Burnham also disputes claims made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in this newspaper, that Leeds can eradicate social inequality within ten years.

“You can make changes, we are proving that here, but in terms of closing the gap – it takes longer. But the thing that really excites me, when we all (the north of England) have a degree of devolution, together that is when we learn from each other, work with each other and change how this country works.”

Power up the North

Burnham’s words to Leeds for a devolution bid comes days after a bold manifesto was put to parties of all colours, with a challenge of not only promising to make improvements for the North – but delivering them.

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In a special Yorkshire Evening Post report on Thursday, city and business leaders sent a clear message to Westminster as the election campaign gets underway that ‘Powering up the North’ must be seen in tangible benefits which improve the lives of the 15m people in the region.

The manifesto puts the people of the North who have “wit and grit” at the centre of proposals and pushes for power to be put in their hands to make decisions which impact them.

Jim Hubbard, Head of Regional Policy, CBI, said: “The next government must set out plans to devolve powers regionally to ignite a new era of economic prosperity across the North and beyond. It’s time to harness devolution and work together to achieve shared prosperity.

“For Yorkshire and the Humber, this means setting out a clear framework for devolution, so that local authorities know what’s on the table when it comes to securing new powers and funding for the region.”