May I first congratulate Baroness Eaton’s speech.
My noble Lords, at the last census 84% of people in Bradford considered their level of ‘Wellbeing’ to be either ‘good’ or ‘very good’. That’s 3% ahead of the national average.[i] Not surprising, actually - Bradford is in God’s own county of Yorkshire.
These statistics show the resilience of the people of Bradford.
Bradford doesn't need pity – it needs positive commitment.
Bradford is often spoken about from a distance or as an illustration of certain national problems. But the Church has a different perspective, an 'insider' perspective.
In 2005, the Churches in Bradford set up an organisation called, 'Bradford Churches for Dialogue and Diversity' to help bring together the different communities to learn from and share with each other. The government funded 'Near Neighbours' programme has provided small grants to many local projects.
One of these brought Muslims, Christians and Jews in a Muslim-majority neighbourhood together to share meals. This led to the Muslim community helping a local synagogue raise funds to repair a leaking roof. This is not just a story about restoring the fabric of a building but the fabric of a neighbourhood, of civil society.
Bradford is the ’most youthful city’ in the country – 37.4% are under 25, compared with a national average of 32.1%.[ii]But what are the prospects for these young people?
At Bradford Church of England Academy, where I was a month ago young people are doing my Young Leaders programme unlocking their potential within their local communities. It is fantastic to see the energy going into a Church club for older people and other great projects, like lunch clubs offered by young people.
But in parts of the city, Church Urban Fund research indicates the child poverty rates are as high as 42%. What will happen to these children, for example, if the government abolishes, as they plan to do, the ring-fenced funding given to local Councils for Crisis Payments and Community Care Grants?
The links between poor health, housing and poverty is of particular concern, with just over a quarter of the district’s children classed as living in poverty.
287 families across the district are currently affected by the housing benefit cap. The average reduction to housing benefit for these families is £49.29 and needs to be made up from other benefits to avoid rent arrears.[iii] What sense does this make?
And on the matter of benefits – why is it that in Bradford 1130 local disabled people have fallen foul of jobcentre ‘sanctions’ and left without any income for periods of between 4 and 13 weeks?[iv] To me that is quite astonishing.
Bradford’s population is forecast to grow at 8.5% over the next ten years, and around 2,200 new additional homes will be needed to be built each year to meet the projected growth in households - a major challenge. It is estimated that up to 25% of all new homes will need to be affordable homes.[v] With the right investment, this will mean much needed jobs.
Bradford is also proudly resistant to those who would seek to sow community discord, but high levels of unemployment are clearly a danger sign.
Long term projections indicate the importance of immediate action and investment. Just to maintain Bradford’s current employment rate of 65.6% an additional 10,000 people will need to find employment by 2021. This is possible – with work on the Westfield centre beginning there are new opportunities – but the city will still need 31,000 new jobs to bring it up to the national average. [vi]
But jobs in Bradford tend to be low paid. It will be important if these people who are going to be paid are actually paid a living wage to lift people out of poverty.
My noble Lords I am very much looking forward to hearing Baroness Williams give her maiden speech – her experience as director of the North West Rail development company qualifies her well to encourage investment in a northern city.
We in the Church of England are creating a new Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, to be an active force for good in their neighbourhoods. We are committed, local, and full of hope.
My noble lords, government, business, civil society, churches, and all religious communities – I put to you that this is a key moment for Bradford. I hope that today’s debate will lead to more understanding and more investment in this vibrant city. Long live Bradford!
[i] 2011 Census. http://bradford.gov.uk/bmdcgovernment politics and public administration/2011 census
[ii] Bradford Joint Needs Assessment 2012 – NHS/BMDC
[iii] Incommunities, (Housing Association), Bradford.
[iv] Figures provided by DWP after a freedom of information request.
[v] Incommunities, Bradford.