Establishing a Fairness Commission to look at fairness and inequality in Barnet was a local election pledge by the Barnet Labour Group of Councillors should they form the incoming Council administration in May 2018.
Following the local elections, the Labour Group are in opposition, but they have decided to establish the Fairness Commission in partnership with local community groups and on a cross-party basis.
Community groups represented on The Barnet Fairness Commission include Community Barnet, Christians Against Poverty, Barnet Citizens / Somali Bravanese Welfare Association, the Islamic Association of North London, Finchley Progressive Synagogue and Middlesex University. They are each serving in an independent capacity.
The Commission will be Chaired by Lord Kennedy of Southwark and also have the following cross-party representation:
Cllr Reema Patel, Labour – Coppetts ward
Cllr Ross Houston, Labour – West Finchley ward
Richard Logue, Lib Dem – local election candidate Mill Hill ward
Kate Salinger – former Barnet Conservative councillor
Purpose of The Barnet Fairness Commission
The Barnet Fairness Commission’s purpose is to consider how best to achieve a fairer, more inclusive and more prosperous Barnet.
The Terms of Reference were originally drafted from the point of view of the Council establishing and running the Commission, and it was intended to look at policy across the Council and its partners’ sphere of influence.
With more limited resources than the Council, The Barnet Fairness Commissioners have discussed narrowing the scope of the Commission to focus on some key priorities during its year of operation.
Beyond this, the Barnet Labour Group plan to hold further Fairness Commissions over the following three years to cover a wider area of policy.
The Terms of Reference define a fairer, more inclusive and more prosperous Barnet as a borough where:
- everyone can achieve their potential, and no-one is held back or excluded from wider society;
- everyone can fully participate in the economic, community, civic and democratic life of the Borough.
In the scoping discussion the Commissioners considered these three strands of fairness and recognised that they were very broad aims that couldn’t be achieved by one Fairness Commission within a year.
However, they felt that the Commission could contribute some ideas to help achieve a fairer Barnet as defined by the three strands set out in the Terms of Reference.
The Commissioners agreed that this was an opportunity to cast a fresh pair of eyes on policy areas and raise awareness about key issues. They also agreed that whatever areas the Commission decided to focus on they should look to complement and add value to the work already taking place.
There was recognition that the Council couldn’t do everything, and that there was a need for the community to take ownership of some of the space. The Commission should therefore focus on outcomes and practical solutions that can be implemented in the short, medium and long-term by communities themselves, as well as the Council.
Finally, the Commissioners acknowledged that fairness is often about people feeling they are being heard, and therefore continuous engagement with the community would be a large part of the Commission’s work.
Recommendation – That the Barnet Fairness Commission’s principles of working should be to:
- Raise awareness of the issues and communicate information
- Identify gaps and practical solutions
- Focus on outcomes
- Increase participation
Scope of the Barnet Fairness Commission
The Commissioners discussed the various possible policy areas they could focus on and four main themes emerged:
- Mapping inequality and community resources
- Building community infrastructure and a thriving social enterprise sector
- Strengthening community cohesion and tackling hate crime
- Addressing gender inequality and ending domestic violence and abuse
1. Mapping inequality and community resources in Barnet
The Commissioners discussed the three strands of fairness in the context of Barnet’s diverse communities, the changing demographics and the impact of austerity on public services and community groups.
They felt there was a need for a better understanding and analysis of inequality in Barnet, and what resources were already out there to tackle it.
The Commissioners noted that there was a huge amount of available data on inequality but from disparate sources and at different levels of granularity. Some of the data was less recent and is due to be updated – for example, the last published Indices of Multiple Deprivation date back to 2015 and are due to be updated this summer.
The Commissioners felt it would be worthwhile to try and bring as much data as possible together in one mapping exercise. The mapping tool could be developed in partnership with residents and community groups so data sets relating to community facilities and resources are also captured. This has been done in other local authority areas and there are tools to do this available online.
According to the Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, the Charities Commission register suggests there are 1,235 registered charities operating in Barnet, of which 638 (51.7%) are based in or near the borough. However, research suggests the number of smaller informal groups may be even larger, for example the Young Foundation in 2015 found there were 300 smaller informal groups operating within a square mile of Golders Green Tube Station.
The Council has established the Barnet Community Directory which lists the details of 276 local organisation, but the Commissioners felt it would be useful to try and map as many of Barnet’s Voluntary, Community & Faith Sector (VCFS) groups as possible, including the smaller groups and networks that operate at a grass roots and neighbourhood level.
The mapping exercise and tool could be an important element of the Barnet Fairness Commission’s engagement with the community and should be one of the Commission’s outputs as something the community can use and add to over time.
Data sets included in the tool would form part of the Commission’s evidence base and could also be used to suggest work for future Fairness Commissions. The mapping tool would be a resource that is open to the whole community to develop and shape, which could also help increase participation in local democracy and decisions about tackling inequality and achieving greater fairness.
Recommendation – That the Barnet Fairness Commission’s first area of focus should be:
Mapping inequality and community resources in Barnet by:
- Creating a tool that brings as many data sets together as possible
- Working with the community to shape the tool
- Sharing the tool with the local community
2. Building community infrastructure and a thriving social enterprise sector
In the discussion on mapping inequality and community resources the Commissioners raised the opportunity presented by the Council’s recent decision to move away from the current so-called ‘Commissioning Model’.
There was a general feeling that much of the commissioning undertaken by the Council focuses on efficiency and scale over the local flexibility required to support diverse communities, and that this had resulted in mass-outsourcing contracts for large private companies based outside Barnet.
Although social value must now be considered in the Council’s procurement process, the number of local businesses that have gained access to the Council’s supply chain has reduced from 593 to 338. This reduction is due to an exercise to remove dormant and infrequent suppliers; however, the latest performance data shows that although the Council’s spend with local businesses is up 34 per cent (from £133m to £153m or 36% of council spend) it remains much lower than the same time last year.
The Commissioners felt that putting more priority and emphasis on social value and social capital could mean that the Council might ‘release so the community can increase’ and move towards its goal of being the ‘action enabler’.
The Commissioners agreed that with continued austerity it was even more important to find ways of keeping spend in Barnet to boost the local economy. In addition to the Council’s spend they were interested in looking beyond this to different models of community wealth building that have resulted in other large organisations and companies in the area spending more with local-based businesses and organisations. Preston City Council, for example, had worked with large anchor organisations in their area to increase their spend with Preston-based organisations from 5 per cent in 2012/13 (£37m of £746m) to 18.2 per cent in 2017 (£112m of £616m).
While Barnet has a lower than average proportion of large businesses, the Council is working on attracting new businesses, including larger national and international firms, and headquarters operations to the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration area, so this may be an even bigger opportunity in the future.
Barnet has a significant number of small businesses, and the Council has set itself the goal of ensuring that Barnet is the best place to be a small business. The Commissioners were therefore also interested in looking at how to create fairer money flows within Barnet, so that more of it moves between local people, between more affluent areas and less affluent areas and that more of it stays within the borough to help support smaller local businesses, community groups and social enterprises.
The Commissioners also wanted to investigate how to create a more prosperous Barnet in an inclusive way that increased participation from the wider community. They felt this was more likely to reduce inequality and produce greater fairness and wanted to look at co-operative models of community wealth building as well as best practice from other local authorities.
They observed that looking at community wealth building was timely as community and faith groups are increasingly playing a larger role in the delivery of local services because of Barnet’s changing demographic, and because of the reduction in council-run community facilities as a result of public sector austerity.
A recent survey of local VCFS groups by Inclusion Barnet showed three quarters of respondents reported that the demand for their services was increasing, whilst only a quarter thought that it was staying the same. Over time more and more people will be turning to their respective communities and community groups for help and support.
However, the Commissioners recognised that austerity was having an impact on the community sector and their access to resources, and there was often a feeling of unfairness about the allocation of resources which had increased because of Brexit.
They felt there needed to be an understanding about the lack of resources and managing expectations whilst maintaining standards, with more co-operation and co-production between groups to strengthen and grow community infrastructure in the borough.
The Commissioners agreed that the exercise to map inequality and community resources could help with understanding and responding to this issue.
The Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment notes that Barnet has a high level of VCFS activity, but that this is not evenly distributed across the borough partly because a large proportion of the activity is focused around faith communities and where they are located.
The Council therefore aims to work with faith groups to see how this capacity could be leveraged in other parts of the sector and the borough. The Commissioners also felt that this was something they wanted to look at to both increase capacity in the sector and help strengthen community cohesion.
During the scoping discussion, the Commissioners identified two specific inequalities that they felt were significant issues both within the communities they represent and the wider Barnet community:
- housing inequality / impact from lack of access to social housing, and
- health inequality / impact from lack of access to health services
The Commissioners noted that because of reduced funding the Council was moving towards delivering only minimum or statutory duties. Eligibility criteria are tightening, and resources are targeted at an ever-decreasing group of the most vulnerable residents and those with very high levels of need. As a result, VCFS groups are having to respond to the needs of a greater number of people who are longer eligible for Council support.
The Council has also identified areas related to housing and the impact of welfare reform as issues where the VCFS are key to ensuring people could access services. The Commissioners were interested in looking at building capacity in this area by increasing co-operation between groups delivering debt advice services for example.
On health, the Council has similarly noted that less than 20 per cent of the charities operating in Barnet had a health or disability-related benefit to the work that they did, and has suggested that this was as an area of potential opportunity for the VCFS to expand its activity into.
Finally, the Commissioners recognised that the community sector sometimes feels like the junior partner in its relations with the Council. There was a need to break the thinking that the Council always sets the agenda in the borough and to reconfigure the partnerships between the Council and community organisations to be on a more responsive and reflexive footing that listens rather than directs.
The Commission could help work towards a new vision of community engagement in Barnet, and provide a space for the community to achieve a Copernican revolution and take back control of some of the agenda.
A more equal partnership between the Council and the community would be a fairer outcome and probably result in other fairer outcomes.
Recommendation – That the Barnet Fairness Commission’s second area of focus should be:
Building community infrastructure and a thriving social enterprise sector by looking at:
- Different models of community wealth building, including those that increase participation, co-operation, co-production and co-design between groups;
- Creating fairer money flows
- Building capacity in the VCFS in the areas of health and housing/welfare reform
3. Strengthening community cohesion and tackling hate crime
The Commissioners identified the strength and diversity of faith communities as a unique and important feature of Barnet.
According to the Annual Population Survey 2017, 38.6% of Barnet’s population are Christian, 22.6% are Jewish and 8.1% are Muslim. While 20.5% of the population have no religion, this equates to around 78,600 people, compared to the 148,300 Christians in the borough and 117,600 of people in Barnet that are either Jewish or Muslim. In addition, 4.8% or 18,300 people are Hindu, while Sikhs and Buddhists each account for just over 1% of the population. 
The Council considers Barnet to be religiously diverse and has recognised the importance of this by including ‘faith’ in referring to the ‘Voluntary, Community & Faith Sector’.
The Commissioners noted that the faith profile of the borough had changed and was continuing to change, and that Barnet is projected to become more ethnically and culturally diverse. One Commissioner cited the growth in French and North African Churches; another cited the growth in the Romanian community.
The Commissioners felt that looking at fairness, equality and inclusivity through the lens of Barnet’s faith and cultural diversity would be a different way of approaching the subject that was uniquely Barnet.
The Commissioners acknowledged that in general Barnet was a place of strong community cohesion. This is reflected in successive Resident Perception Surveys, the most recent of which found that 84% of residents felt that people from different backgrounds get on well together.
However, there was strong agreement that faith communities were feeling a heightened level of fear and nervousness which had been amplified by social media, and that this was particularly an issue for the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The Commissioners felt that the level of fear in faith and BAME communities had increased since the EU Referendum and against the backdrop of the process to leave the EU. The 2017 Residents’ Perception Surveys noted a sharp increase in the percentage of residents who felt that there was a problem with people not treating each other with respect from 19% in spring 2016 prior to the EU Referendum to 37% in spring 2017. While this decreased to 24% in Autumn 2017 it is still higher than before the EU Referendum.
In addition, the number of reported racist and religious hate crimes in Barnet has increased from 306 in 2013/14 to 732 in 2017/18. Anti-Semitic hate crime in the borough rose by over a third (185 reported incidents – up by 37%) in the 12 months to October 2018 compared with the previous year; and faith hate crime overall rose by 7% to 222 reported incidents in the same period.
One Commissioner referred to the second strand of fairness in the terms of reference that a fairer Barnet would be one where ‘we celebrate our diversity, accept differences, and stand together’. This needed people not of faith defending those of faith and vice versa – we have a civic duty to look after each other.
The Commissioners agreed that while faith groups often worked together, through the Barnet Multi-Faith Forum for example, more needed to be done to build community relationships and co-working between different faith communities and between faith communities and non-faith communities to help achieve greater community cohesion.
The Commissioners recognised that some communities were very well established and had strong networks and greater community capacity which they were already using to assist others – for example the Finchley Reform Synagogue helping the Somali Bravanese community find premises when their community centre burned down.
The Commissioners felt that the Commission could be used to create a legacy and a space to bring people of faith and those of no-faith together as part of work on community cohesion. One measurable outcome might be for Barnet to be a community where the highest proportion of different communities stand together.
The Commissioners also noted that the highest number of hate crime offences recorded between November 2017 and October 2018 was for domestic abuse hate crime – a total of 2,680 incidents (4% increase).
They were interested in this statistic and its relationship with misogyny, gender-based violence and inequality, and tackling Violence Against Women & Girls.
The Commissioners acknowledged that all categories of hate crime are under reported.
They agreed that to ensure Barnet is a fairer place where ‘we celebrate our diversity, accept differences, and stand together’ the Commission should look at tackling hate crime across all categories (disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief (which includes non-belief), sexual orientation, gender identity) and at building better understanding between different communities and groups of people.
Recommendations – That the Barnet Fairness Commission third area of focus should be:
Strengthening community cohesion & tackling hate crime by:
- Raising awareness of the issues and communicating information
- Bringing different groups together in the engagement process
- Creating a lasting network between Barnet’s faith and non-faith communities
4. Addressing gender inequality and ending domestic violence and abuse (DVA)
The Commissioners discussed the issue of misogyny and its relationship with violence against women and girls.
There has been a 12 per cent increase in the number of domestic violence offences recorded in Barnet in the last year, with 1144 referrals to Barnet’s Independent Domestic Violence Advisor between April 2017 and March 2018, and 343 referrals made to the Domestic Violence Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (DV MARAC) in 2018 (11.4% increase). At the same time, the sanction detection rate (where a perpetrator is charged or cautioned) for domestic abuse (violence with injury) had fallen from 32% in 2017 to 23% in 2018.
The Council estimates that domestic violence and sexual offences over the last 12 months has cost Barnet £63,831,915.
Although Barnet has the 3rd lowest rate of domestic violence and abuse in London, the Met’s crime statistics show that Barnet had the joint-second highest number of domestic abuse homicides in London in the last two years (4 offences alongside 4 offences in Southwark; with 5 in Tower Hamlets – the highest number).
As 97 per cent of the victims referred to the DV MARAC were female and 95 per cent of the perpetrators were male, there is a clear gender dynamic to domestic violence and abuse.
The Commissioners discussed that domestic violence is often a hidden crime taking place behind closed doors, and that although it is under reported it is endemic in society. Over 50 per cent of Barnet’s population are female, so achieving true equality and fairness in Barnet where everyone can fulfil their potential and where no-one is held back requires ending violence against women and girls.
The Commissioners agreed that the Commission should look at gender inequality and addressing domestic violence and abuse alongside looking at hate crime.
The Commissioners talked about some of the good work already taking place in Barnet to tackle violence against women and girls, including the Domestic Violence One Stop Shop run by Barnet Homes in Barnet House. They felt there was scope to add to this work by looking at best practice in other boroughs, the Government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the draft Bill, as well as raising awareness about the issue in the wider community.
Recommendation – That the Barnet Fairness Commission’s fourth area of focus should be:
Addressing gender inequality and ending domestic violence and abuse by:
- Raising awareness of the issues and communicating information
- Looking at best practice in other local authority areas
- Supporting campaigns to end violence against women and girls
Examples of scope in other Fairness Commissions
Islington defined Fairness as:
“To make Islington fairer means reducing poverty and inequality in the areas that matter most to Islington people’s life chances.”
The Islington Fairness Commission focused on:
Income, work, families, community safety, housing and health.
Newcastle defined fairness as:
Fair outcomes – in terms of fair allocation of resources
Fair process – in terms of transparent, inclusive decision-making
Fair opportunity – in terms of people having an equal chance to realise their full potential
Fair participation – in terms of being heard and having the opportunity to make your own contribution to society
Camden focused on:
“improving outcomes for disadvantaged groups across seven domains of life; tackling inequalities in each of these areas. Its remit therefore included a wide range of areas of life not just income and wealth.”
The Camden seven domains were:
To live in safety and security
To be healthy
To be knowledgeable and to have the skills to participate in society
To enjoy a comfortable standard of living, with independence and security
To engage in productive and valued activities
To enjoy individual, family and social life
To participate in decision-making, have a voice and influence.
Sheffield defined Fairness as:
“A Fair Sheffield will be when the major inequalities have been substantially reduced, when there are no barriers to prevent people from participating as fully as possible in the social and economic life of the city, according to their abilities and preferences, and where a sense of fair play governs.”
Appendix 2: Background information