The Fairness Commission

From left to right: Kellie Dorrington, Professor Paul Watt, Paul Butler, Daria Polovina (Fairness Commission Manager) and Cllr Kaushika Amin     Credit: Luchia Robinson

Cllr Kaushika Amin, Professor Paul Watt, Kellie Dorrington and Paul Butler, commissioners on Haringey’s Fairness Commission, give TCP an update on what they are currently doing.

By Luchia Robinson

The Fairness Commission, was set up last summer to address unfairnesses and inequalities across the borough.

Commissioned by Haringey Council, it is an independent body headed by Cllr Kaushika Amin, Cabinet Member for Corporate and Civic Services, and Paul Watt, Professor of Urban Studies in the Department of Geography at Birkbeck University.

Comprising of 30 commissioners from core organisations within Haringey, the Commission has been tackling social issues, including housing, debt, poverty, health and education, by engaging residents in regular dialogue.

This has given local people the opportunity to share their personal experiences of how unfairnesses and inequalities are impacting their lives.

Having completed the engagement period, the Fairness Commission is now collating the evidence gathered via the public forums and from professional practitioners, to produce a report, at the end of the year, of final recommendations for Haringey Council and other local, public service organisations.

“The range and depth of the inequalities and unfairnesses is quite astonishing. It’s very clear that the system is creaking,” said Paul Watt.

“The voluntary sector is doing fantastic work, but its struggling with lack of funds, and it’s constantly in this business of having to chase resources and to bid for grants. Whilst the council itself is obviously struggling with austerity cuts which have been imposed– and you can see it very, very clearly.”

“All of these decisions that are being made, particularly around austerity reduction are having a massively negative impact on boroughs like Haringey, and particularly on the poorest, most disadvantaged, most vulnerable groups in Haringey.”

The aim of the Fairness Commission is to identify solutions to the residents’ challenges.

“I see [engaging with individuals and communities] as a really important part of any process in determining priorities and strategies, because if it simply becomes a demonstrative exercise, then I seriously question whether you’re getting to the real heart of the issues,” said Paul Butler, CEO of The Selby Trust.

The diversity of views and lived experiences voiced at the numerous engagement events held throughout October 2018– March 2019 has been pivotal in assessing the assistance residents require.

“Quite a lot of residents could see the challenges that we are having– but they also understand that services should be for everybody, and that there may be priorities for some people who are more vulnerable or more disadvantaged than others,” said Cllr Amin.

Key areas of concern for residents in the east of the borough include: school exclusions and the work needed to support young people, safety, policing and the fair treatment of the youth, homelessness and temporary accommodation.

“On a very simple level– we listened,” said Kellie Dorrington, Operating Development Manager at Haringey Citizens Advice.

“People had the chance to actually express how they felt, and it made a difference because it empowered them to have a voice.

“The proof of the pudding is when we get to the other end. For me, what we have to do, is prove that we did listen and make the recommendations based on what we heard.”

The Fairness Commission has now narrowed the issues, raised by the residents, down to five priority areas (see info box).

The commissioners acknowledge that there are particular issues, distinctive to different groups with protected characteristics, and they are securing advice and support from specialist organisations regarding the recommendation process.

Cllr Amin said: “One of the things that we said to [the residents] is that we would go back once we’ve got our recommendations and our thinking together– to talk to them about what our thinking was, and [they could] also input further if necessary.

“It’s a two-way street: you can’t take the voices of people, and then not tell them what your thinking is. It’s meant to be engagement all the way, and working thorough ideas. [It is not] just for us to come up with things.”

Attempts to collectively challenge inequality and unfairness in Haringey requires resources, and financial constraints pose practical risks to any social improvements.

“Finance is the biggest challenge we’ve got,” said Cllr Amin.

“[But] It isn’t always that we need more money– we need to shift the money that we’re using, to address the problem in a different way.”

Going forward, the Fairness Commission is considering how best to monitor the impact of the recommendations, once they are published and hopefully implemented by the council, the police, the health services and voluntary sector.

It is hoped that this monitoring period will last for at least two years.