Julia Unwin closing remarks – #solveukpoverty

I’m just about to invite Julia Unwin back to the lectern for her closing remarks but somehow Louise Casey has
sneaked in a minute early. Louise. If it’s OK with everybody I
just… a number of people in the room, Julia, asked me ahead of today and I
wanted to myself just to say a couple words about Julia though this is her
penultimate, I think, major conference and she will be livid with me so I’m going
to make a run straight after this so that I can’t get told off for the umpteenth
time in my career. I’ve worked for Julia for 25-30 years because you never
stop working for Julia. I just wanted to say those of you that have come across
her in the last 10 years have probably been in awe of how she has… where she
has taken the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and all she has done on behalf of people
in poverty. Julia started out as a community development worker in places
like inner-city Southwark and Liverpool. She has a extraordinary track record both in
working directly with human beings but also being an intellectual powerhouse in
how she goes about making sure we can both structurally in terms of systems
respond to them. She deserves the credit for the rough sleepers initiative, for
food labelling, for many, many other things and obviously for the extraordinary
report published by Joseph Rowntree today. What a moment to do it under this new
government with the new prime minister. I don’t know whether you planned all of
that Julia or whether that just happened. I wouldn’t put it past her is all I will say. Obviously she’s
an extraordinary intellectual and a highly sophisticated operator but Julia
you are passionate, you are determined, you are a heartfelt campaigner and more
than anything you have given the gift of your time and your support to countless
people across the country. Without you we wouldn’t be able to do the jobs that we
do and some people out there wouldn’t have got the help that they would get so
thank you on behalf of all of us. Hear, hear Applause You can see, ladies and gentlemen, you can see, even in pink light Julia is blushing. Or fuming. Or both. Thank you, and you’re right i won’t forgive you. Over to Julia. Thank you all. I want to thank all of you for coming along today. The question that we’ve been asked time and
time again is, at this time when the labour market is going to change so
dramatically, when we go into these complicated trade negotiations, when we
face austerity, can we solve poverty? I think at this time as we go into this
very difficult territory we can’t afford not to, and what this strategy today says is
this is the time when we need to take these actions. I’m delighted that the
panel have been so supportive, so questioning and have stretched what we
want to do. Many of you in this room will be able to build on what we have done.
Almost 30 endorses of the strategy from across the spectrum have supported us
and they will be on the website and you can see them over lunch but this is now
a project for all of us. Nick said it as well as anyone could:
this is not a problem that belongs to government or governments; it doesn’t
belong to employers; it doesn’t belong to Joseph Rowntree Foundation. This is an
issue that faces this country at this time more than ever and we have provided
the research evidence, we’ve developed the policies, we have brought together an
extraordinary array of people, many of whom are in this room today, but this has
to be the start not the end. This has to be the start of a new approach that says
yes, poverty is real in the UK, that 13 million figure is true, yes, it causes
immense harm and we know that, but between us we have the skills, the ability and the
drive to solve it. Joseph Rowntree Foundation will continue to work on this because we’ve worked on it for a hundred years. We will work with
people like Big Society Capital to do practical things that will really
disrupt the current system; the system that traps people in poverty. We can’t do
it without the active engagement of all of you and all of those have been
watching us on the live stream. We continue to work with this but we’d ask you to
work with us. Keep the conversation going, follow #SolveUKpoverty,
visit our website, talk to us. Before we leave, however, I wanted to show you a
message from the actor, director and campaigner Michael Sheen, who couldn’t
be here in person today but has witnessed first-hand the impact of poverty in South
Wales. This is his message to us. Poverty in the UK today is real. And the
greatest danger to our society is us allowing that to become acceptable, a
necessary evil, just the way things are. There’s nothing
necessary about poverty. It’s not just the way things are, or should ever have
to be. Poverty is intolerable and entirely unacceptable. This country
should be a place that no matter where you live you have the chance of a decent
and secure life but today millions of people in the UK are held back because
they’re living in poverty. Now don’t be fooled that it looks like
some Dickensian vision of Victorian waif-strewn streets and workhouses. Half
of those in poverty today live in a home where someone works. Almost half either
have a disability themselves or live in a household with someone who does.
Poverty means not being able to heat your home, pay your rent, buy the
essentials for your children or having to choose which one of those you can
afford to do this week; waking up every day facing insecurity and
uncertainty. It means constant stress, overwhelming people, affecting them
emotionally, physically, depriving them of the chance to play a full part in
society. It’s shameful that in the 21st century 13 million people in our country
are struggling to make ends meet. What a terrible, terrible waste… culturally,
economically. What a waste of all that human potential. Thirteen million people shut
out from what’s possible. Our national life is a conversation, a dialogue. How
much poorer is it if only certain people get to join in that conversation? If 13
million of those voices struggle to be heard? I see the dangers of poverty in a place
like Port Talbot, my hometown, where my family still lives. I see it in the lives of people I grew
up with, went to school with, played football with. I see it in my own family. The whole town faces an uncertain future,
with the steelworks up for sale, with public services continuing to suffer and
many more cuts on the way. And in towns and villages across the South Wales
Valleys and beyond, decimated by deindustrialisation, many feel abandoned
and forgotten; left behind. There has to be a vision to turn this
around. We can’t let this keep happening to our
towns and cities. When a factory or even an entire industry starts to shut down, the
responsibility of government and of society is to do everything it can to
ensure that poverty does not take hold in that community. Fight for
opportunities and prospects, something to work for and hope for, because the
reality is that almost anyone can experience poverty. It isn’t about
somebody over there. It’s the family just a payday away from a loan shark. It’s the mother who can’t work because
she’s caring for a disabled child. It’s the young person who can’t afford next
month’s rent; a steel worker who loses their job. Sometimes all it takes is one
unexpected turn in your life – the death of someone you love, an illness,
a redundancy, a relationship breaking down, and suddenly you’re in
circumstances that are very difficult to escape. Work should be the route out, but
too often low wages, combined with the high cost of housing and childcare, poor
health or a lack of education and skills present almost insurmountable
barriers. We can and must do better if we’re to prosper and thrive as a nation.
We can solve poverty and have a more prosperous society with permanently
lower levels of poverty. To do so we will have to find more inclusive answers to
the challenges a globalised world presents to us and define our place
within it. Industry has been part of the foundation
of our national identity for generations, so it’s time to ask: what do we want the
foundation of our national identity to be now? What do we want for ourselves, our families and our
communities? It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well it’s going
to take a whole society working together to eradicate poverty. This goes beyond
ideologies of left or right; beyond over- simplified theories of market forces or
redistribution of wealth. We need long-term planning and courageous
leadership from our governments and politicians, responsibility from our
business leaders, cooperation within our communities. Every single one of us has a part to play and I know there are hundreds of businesses, employers,
communities, groups and individuals who are already working to solve poverty in
different ways. Think how powerful our efforts would be
if they were combined. I support the Joseph Rowntree Foundation today because they have a bold vision for everyone in the UK to have a decent and secure life
and a practical plan to solve poverty. They’ve been researching poverty and
social issues for decades, and four years ago set themselves the task, working with
many of you, of finding out how to solve UK poverty in a generation. As a result
we now have a comprehensive strategy that will boost incomes and reduce costs, improve education and skills, and strengthen families, communities and our economy. The question JRF asked me and the question I ask of you is what can you do? What more can you do, in your business,
your community, with your power, to solve poverty in a generation? And finally JRF
asks that we do this together, that we work together to solve poverty. It can be
done but it takes vision, courage and a plan. I wish the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation well with the launch today and I join you to solve poverty in the
UK. What a great rallying cry there to send us all off to lunch. I think Joseph Rowntree would have been rightly proud. He’d have probably also been thinking “What’s with the trendy jumper?” but i think that the
spirit of, you know, the message that’s come through the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation from its foundation down the years has been just very eloquently put
there as we go. My thanks to Julia, to Tony, to their very
hardworking teams who’ve put this together in this great document, to our panel for
taking your questions on head-on and of course to you for for coming along and
for your engagement. Thank you all very much. Enjoy lunch.

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