Barely a day goes by when we don’t hear about a new opening, a new investment or a new acquisition – but not everyone in Leeds is benefiting from the city’s success.
In many ways, Leeds is on the up and up. It has a GVA of £20 billion and that number is expected to increase by 17.1% over the next 10 years according to the UK Powerhouse report from Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic & Business Research. It’s growing fast, attracting more and more businesses, retailers and developers – all of which bring more money into the city.
Take Victoria Gate for example. It’s given us the North’s flagship John Lewis store, alongside a host of premium retailers, and it’s expected to attract £540 million in additional annual sales. But while this is a massive coup for the city, not everyone looks on Victoria Gate with the same enthusiasm – because there are a lot of people in Leeds who could never afford to shop there.
Leeds has the third highest levels of inequality in the UK
In 2015, the Cities Outlook report looked at disparity between rich and poor communities in UK cities. It uses the percentage difference between the highest and lowest Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) rate within neighbourhoods of 1,500 people or more as an indicator – and Leeds had the third biggest difference, behind only Birmingham and Belfast.
To be fair, it’s not just Leeds. All of the UK’s 11 largest cities have big differences between the highest and lowest JSA rates, but Leeds is right up there with the worst of them, worse even than London. In fact, according to the Index of Multiple Deprivation, Leeds has 105 neighbourhoods in the most deprived 10% nationally and 175,000 people in Leeds are classified as being in absolute poverty – that’s almost a quarter of the population.
It gets worse. Over 28,000 Leeds children are living in poverty, and 64% of those are estimated to be from working families, so it’s not from lack of trying. And while the city’s more affluent residents are checking out the latest restaurant openings, underprivileged families are forced to resort to extreme measures, with 20,000 people visiting the city’s food banks between April 2014 and 2015. The numbers speak for themselves here.
South and East Leeds have the highest concentration of poverty
“The irony of an economic crash is that in a recession inequality reduces as the rich get poorer,” Jackson Turner, General Manager of St Luke’s Cares, a charity set up to help the community in South Leeds, explained. “However, when a city like Leeds booms, the rich get richer, and the poor stay poor. It takes market intervention, community engagement, social entrepreneurialism and time for the boom to be shared, and by then the wealthiest in the city are out of sight.”
St Luke’s Cares works in South Leeds, one of the worst affected areas of the city. There are deprived neighbourhoods across the city, but the highest concentration of poverty in Leeds is in inner South and inner East Leeds, including Beeston, Holbeck, Hunslet, Belle Isle and Middleton. That’s not to say they’re bad places to live – communities in need are often the ones that come together the most – but it does have certain ramifications.
Child poverty has a lot to answer for, with poor health, educational achievements and employment prospects among them. It creates a never ending cycle, where there’s no escape, and it’s not just quality of life that’s affected, it’s also length of life. In fact, life expectancy can be up to 10 years shorter for people living in poverty.
Working together to narrow the gap
So what’s being done. Well, the Council obviously has a role to play, and it’s become the centrepiece of their Best Council Plan. “Our vision is for Leeds to be a compassionate, caring city that helps all its residents benefit from the effects of the city’s economic growth. We will focus on creating the right conditions for the economy in Leeds to prosper and, hand in hand with that, ensure a consequence of that growth is a reduction in the inequalities that exist in Leeds,” Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, explained – but with ongoing budget cuts, they simply can’t do it alone. “We will need an enormous amount of help from our partners and the city’s businesses to succeed in this dual aim.”
That help comes from a variety of sources, including investors Hammerson. So while the new shopping centre may not garner the same excitement from South Leeds communities, it will still have an impact on them. Hammerson have invested £114,000 in charities, groups and community organisations around Leeds, including teaming up with Leeds Community Foundation to offer grants that will directly tackle poverty by helping projects that offer cultural experiences, training and enterprising activities. That’s something we can expect to see more of in the future – big developments giving back to local communities as part of their planning deal.
It’s not just money either. When ASDA opened their Middleton store, they committed to a Local Employment Partnership which guaranteed that the 375 new full and part time jobs created went to local workers. “Our special recruitment scheme specifically targets the long-term unemployed, ASDA job applicants attend our ASDA Magic™ recruitment centres, they’re given advice on filling in application forms, interview skills and life working at ASDA. We were determined that local people would benefit from these job opportunities and worked with Job Centre Plus and other local agencies to target opportunities in the local area,” Philip Bartram, Property Communications Manager for ASDA in Yorkshire told us.
Making life better in the community
Alongside the business partnerships, there are the charities – charities like St Luke’s Cares. It’s dedicated to South Leeds, and offers a range of services that support people affected by poverty, with a series of employability programmes, alongside mentoring, after school groups and advice services.
The projects they run are actually quite diverse. The TRY Project offers free, hands-on retail training in the community. 80% of the participants who’ve completed their 5-week retail training programme have progressed to a positive destination, be it a job or further training. That sits alongside The Holbeck Information and Technology Base, which offers IT courses designed for people who have little to no experience with computers. Every year, they train 50 people, as well as running a drop-in service that helps up to 1,800 people.
The Shine Project is something else entirely, although it’s just as important. Created to support vulnerable girls in South Leeds, they aim to raise the girls’ self-esteem, help them build healthy relationships and work through issues. These girls have seen first hand the effects of domestic violence, substance misuse, family breakdowns and even child exploitation, so the one-to-one support they get with The Shine Project makes a real difference.
The value of what they do is perhaps most clear in the words of their participants, “Before Shine I felt like my life was destroyed, that I would never make any friends and that I was worth nothing. Since coming to Shine I have made friends and I felt a lot happier than before and then things were going better at home as well. I now feel like my life has been put back together.”
In a community that’s so heavily affected by poverty, the services St Luke’s Cares offers are absolutely essential – and it’s a testament to their work that 70% of their staff live in South Leeds and half of them began their time with St Luke’s Cares as volunteers, before going on to take permanent positions. These people are real life success stories, who are now helping others to follow their lead.
Their nail bar and all four of their charity stores are managed by ex-volunteers – that’s one of the other things that makes St Luke’s Cares special. 60% of their income comes from their social enterprises, which means they’re creating jobs, as well as raising funds for the essential work they do – and many of their stores have become hubs for the community, as Jackson explained, “Our charity shops aim to raise money for the community projects St Luke’s Cares operates, but they have inadvertently created communities and networks of staff, volunteers, those on work placement, which are life-enhancing to be around.”
How you can help?
Well, you could always treat yourself. Whether it’s a piece of preloved furniture from one of St Luke’s Cares charity stores or a manicure at Shine Nail Bar, you can get a little something for yourself, while helping to raise funds for a great cause – they can even help with your house clearance, if you so desire. And if you run or manage a business, you can do even more – like hosting their pop-up nail bar or engaging in their education programmes.
“A key part of St Luke’s Cares’ work is to try to create spaces within which corporates and SMEs can volunteer, raise money and support our work with young people and individuals furthest from the labour market,” Jackson told us. “Johnson and Johnson have an office in South Leeds, and are incredibly active in supporting our work – hosting a mobile nail service in their office, raising money through sponsored events and visiting our alternative education programmes. The young people gain a lot from the experience, as do the Johnson and Johnson staff, who see a side of Leeds they didn’t necessarily know existed.”
Businesses can work side by side with St Luke’s Cares to raise awareness of the inequality in Leeds, while offering opportunities to people who would otherwise struggle to get into the jobs market – and if you’re in a position to do it, why wouldn’t you?