• George Oliver

Leicester, inequality and a warning from the LLEP's recovery review

Updated: May 23, 2021

The Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Recovery Strategy Review carries a stark warning on its 73rd page.

“The inequality dimension of the pandemic could be on an unprecedented scale”, it reads.

Leicester, of course, has a legitimate claim to have felt the impact of pandemic more keenly than most. What is perhaps less well known is that city and county had 81,800 households in relative poverty even before the pandemic struck.

Half of those households were in Leicester itself which, with a 33% relative poverty rate, already had the seventh highest rate of poverty out of 181 urban authority areas, review author Cambridge Econometrics notes.

Aerial view of Leicester
A review of evidence warns of inequality in Leicester

The current situation is all a far cry, of course, from the early days of the coronavirus when the Prime Minister was receiving hospital treatment and the pandemic was being portrayed in some parts as a great leveller.

That was quickly refuted at the time and the review document - commissioned by the Leicester and Leicestershire Economic Partnership (LLEP) and published late last month - reiterates a somewhat different picture.

Rather than everyone in city and county being in the same boat, the report sets out the ‘substantial’ implications of the pandemic. It identifies a small number of groups - many already disadvantaged pre-Covid - shouldering disproportionate levels of inequality in the economic fallout.

Impact of pandemic (and Brexit)

The impacts of the pandemic - and of the simultaneous Brexit process - have been unevenly distributed to certain workers, age groups, certain minorities and areas, the review finds. Worst hit have been low-paid workers, the young and residents in BAME communities. Critically, the review warns, this could exacerbate and entrench existing inequalities.

The report notes that Leicester and Leicestershire ranked 23 out of 38 LEPs for deprivation. Yes, many residents enjoy good quality of life and unemployment is relatively low, particularly in certain affluent county areas. However, the area still suffers from pockets of deprivation.

Tackling poverty now

Charity Link is a poverty alleviation organisation operates from Millstone Lane in the city centre. Declaration of interest: 1284 founder George Oliver has been a trustee since early 2019.

For 145 years, the organisation has been working with people in need in the region. It had an opportunity at the outset of the crisis to switch from its day to day activity and do something about it. The results of the year to March 2021, sent to supporters this week, show the outcome:

  • £851,191 of essential items (including 702 beds, 843 fridge freezers, 1,106 cookers and 233 clothing grants, including for school uniforms)

  • More than half of requests for help being related to the pandemic as early as May 2020

  • A 30% YoY increase in requests by the time December arrived

  • In October received National Lottery funding to run a six-month project to encourage more referrals from hater to reach communities

Poverty in Leicester is not a new phenomenon. Caroline Wessel’s history of Charity Link describes its origins in the Victorian city. As such, it had a clear understanding from the outset as to how the pandemic would impact certain communities there. It knew because it was already working within them.

It was April 2020 - a full year before the LLEP report was published - when Charity Link supported the launch of the LeicestershireLive There With You Fund. Its aim was to help the region’s poorest and hardest-hit not just through lockdown but the inevitable economic downturn beyond. Even then, it was clear that the effects of the pandemic were going to be long-term and fall harder in certain areas.

Logo for the LeicestershireLive There With You Fund
The There With You Fund launched in April 2020

Thanks to the generosity of the Loughborough-based Randal Charitable Foundation, Charity Link had £96,000 in its coffers at launch. That was added to by a host of donations from a few pounds to several thousands. People gave what they could. In its first 12 months, the fund raised more than £135,000. It has distributed essential items worth £118,921 to 1,836 local people. More than 880 of them were children.

That was just the support given through that particular fund. A total of 6,630 people were supported by Charity Link between March 23, 2020 and the end of March this year. Of all the requests made to the charity, almost a third were Covid-related.

Case study: Made redundant during the pandemic

Shannon Dakin is one of people in Leicester and Leicestershire that the fund has supported during the Covid-19 crisis.

The trainee nursery worker from Leicester was made redundant during the first lockdown. She told her story in the Leicester Mercury and on East Midlands Today as she described being unable to afford clothes for her children.

Shannon lost her job at the beginning of the first lockdown after working towards a Level 3 apprenticeship in childcare. The 25-year-old subsequently applied for around 60 jobs. She reached interview stage for some. She didn't hear back from the majority.

While completing her apprenticeship, Shannon was also taking care of her sons and was supported by There With You. She said: "Without you guys I would really have struggled. Thank you."

What next for jobs and training?

The review makes clear that its purpose is not to make strategy, but rather to identify themes, opportunities and challenges. As such, it forms part of the process, started in January 2021, of a long-term Economic Recovery Strategy for Leicester Leicestershire. That is aimed for publication by July 2021.

So what can be done - as part of recovery - about inequality and the economic prospects of Leicester and Leicestershire residents? Evidence gathered for the CE review was supported by 14 stakeholder workshops, attended by 118 organisation representatives.

It identifies routes to the jobs, skills and training - as well as access - that feature heavily in previous recovery reports published by the likes of the city council, De Montfort University and the LLEP itself.

The latest review frames a list of opportunities defined in the LLEP’s plan and adds a couple of observations of its own. These include:

  • Use of Kickstart to maximise young people’s prospects of securing jobs

  • Additional support for young people most at risk of becoming NEET

  • Reducing digital poverty

  • Effective careers, employment and retraining advice

  • Reducing the flow of low-skilled, poorly-qualified individuals into adulthood

  • Ensuring that good quality, relevant careers support is available to all age groups

  • Enabling continued support for those furthest from the labour market

  • The risks of gaps in the support network and services, particularly for groups including women, older adults and BAME residents

  • The risks of digital exclusion and low carbon transition causing disadvantage for certain groups.

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