The importance of unusual friends – Reflections on JRF’s New Campaign

October 4, 2016

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by Martyn Evans, Chief Executive, Carnegie UK Trust

‘Solving poverty is good business’. When I read this sentence  in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report We Can Solve Poverty in the UK I knew we were moving beyond safe territory and into far more radical and uncomfortable advocacy. This is not a report designed to make any of us feel complacent. It is addressed directly at ‘us’ as parents, neighbours, citizens and consumers. It is addressed to those in poverty (‘taking up reasonable offers of work’) as well as government and service providers. It  speaks to philanthropic foundations as well, asking us to commit resources to tackling the underlying causes of poverty.

Launched on the 6th September, the strategy is a powerful call to action for government, business, communities and individuals to work together to find solutions to UK poverty. At its core is a refreshing optimism that poverty is solvable. But we need to work together with greater intensity to identify practical solutions. The strategy is a deeply impressive culmination of the work that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been doing for four years to identify and alleviate the roots causes of poverty. It has at its heart a call to align greater citizens and corporate responsibility alongside an active, enabling state.

Our society has come a long way since the times that Andrew Carnegie and Joseph Rowntree lived in. We have built an impressive and complex welfare state. Opportunities have been made available to us that only three or four generation ago would have been unthinkable. Our general health and wellbeing has never been higher. However poverty is still with us- and its extent is unacceptable. It is ’shameful’ in the words of JRF CEO Julia Unwin. An estimated 13 million people in the UK are struggling to make ends meet, and approximately half of these live in a working household. Child poverty remains a particularly serious concern, which can have highly negative consequences for the emotional and physical health and life chances of children in this country, and can perpetuate the blight of generational poverty. Here lies the seeds of structural inequality in society. And as it has, rather surprisingly, taken the rich countries club the OECD to point out that inequality is an economic and democratic issue as well as a moral one.

A Mega Communities Approach


Like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we believe that governments, civil society, funders and business have to work together and trust each other if meaningful and sustainable social change is to happen. Our own work has shown us that creativity and political will is most effectively generated by bringing people into contact with others from different backgrounds and perspectives. In addition to building support for this vision across the political spectrum, JRF’s strategy envisages businesses catalysed to act as a force for good in communities where they create jobs. Solving poverty is in everyone’s best interests. The report estimates the UK already spends an extraordinary £78bn of public spending dealing with just the consequences of poverty. Given that level of current spend of course we can afford to solve poverty but it will take working with unusual friends!

We Can Solve Poverty in the UK sets out a pragmatic, optimistic and ambitious strategy. It sets clear, meaningful outcomes and demonstrates how governments, businesses, communities and individuals can rise to the challenge. It deserves to be on the reading list of everyone interested in a prosperous and fulfilling society for their family, their neighbourhood and their society. It should then be the blueprint for action.