Hi fair people of York

And so the Commission is over and the final report published …. I hope you get a chance to read, peruse and have a good muse about it all. There’s something in there that everyone can do – not least have your organisation adopt the fairness principles as your own.

I’ve been having a thunk about apologising …. I’m sure you have too given the apologies from various politicians recently. Do we ever truly accept apologies? From son and heir when he puts an empty milk carton back in the fridge (yes – he’s a teenager!), to the resulting grey (previously white) undies when someone has ‘helped’ with the washing . . . . And let’s not forget those people who simply cannot arrive to meetings on time and hurl in with a frazzled apology looking busy. Then there are waiters who apologise for the main dish no longer being available – best one for me is a famous fish and chip shop who’d run out of potatoes …. the assembled gob smacked queue booed. And finally the train announcer who repeatedly apologises for the delay of your train and hopes this hasn’t inconvenienced you … ‘not at all I was fine arriving at a time that put my entire schedule out … fine about it’ . . . ahhhh. You’ll have more examples that come to mind I’m sure . . .

I’ve come to the conclusion that apologies are only accepted if you trust it is an irregular or out of character occurrence … or if it really didn’t affect you. Justification rarely works either unless it feels both honest and unusual. ‘I’m having a busy day’ rarely cuts it …. As doesn’t oddly ‘my train was late’. And the more complicated the ‘reason’ the worse it gets …

I’ve been asked to apologise for a number of things over my professional years. I confess most of the time it isn’t an apology people are after – it’s a genuine understanding that we don’t agree or our view of the world is different. I remember being at a conference listening to Alistair Campbell – a marmite character if ever there was one – but when asked a hugely preambled question in the Q&A – he said ‘ I don’t accept the premise so I can’t answer your question’ and literally that was that. We moved onto the next question. The audience loved it and I confess so did I. Alistair wasn’t on the defensive in any way – he simply didn’t agree. It was refreshing and honest. How lovely it would be if the train announcer or the waiter said ‘we planned this badly’ or the meeting attendee said ‘this meeting wasn’t a high priority for me’.

There’s been much debate about whether culpable bankers should apologise for the recession we’re in. The cuts and ‘belt-tightening’ and so much of what we worry about today is obviously their fault. If a long row of CEO’s apologised would we feel better? Momentarily possibly …. but, more importantly, it’s how and where we go from here. Wages at the top should be reduced – huge pay outs for poor performance aren’t acceptable. Let me make it clear I’m not talking about the public sector either – their amounts are paltry by comparison. I don’t want their apologies – not interested – I want us all to own that the gap between the rich and the poor is huge and widening.

Half the children in poverty have a parent who works. Single parent benefit claimants are about to lose over £2,000 in benefits a year. The biggest reason for young people not getting out of poverty as adults is that their parents were poor. Over the last decade, the poorest tenth of the population have, on average, seen a fall in their real incomes. The UK has a higher proportion of its population in relative low income than most other EU countries: of the 27 EU countries, only 4 have a higher rate than the UK.

I could go on … and on … apologies are empty are they not?

We will have different views about how to deal with this. We will vote differently and behave differently and think differently … and that’s ok. But deal with it we must.

I commend our recommendations to one and all.

It’s been fabulous working in York and meeting so many fantastic people – I thank you all for your welcome to me and your time with us on this journey.

Yours for Fairness

Ruth

Long time no blog……..

Hi Fair people of York
I owe you all a million apologies – very remiss of me to not write/blog before now – I hope you will forgive.

We’ve published our interim report and the Council are now looking to see how our recommendations can be incorporated. I think we (and I mean all of you) have given food for thought, guidance and help on the budget. It’s no mean feat to set a budget in trying times and I know from personal experience that making cuts is ghastly, however you do it. Minimising the damage is a complex process and decisions are not taken lightly.

I attended a workshop with the Youth Council the other week. What an inspiring, intelligent and articulate group of young people they are! We had a great discussion about the recommendations in the report, particularly those with a ‘youth’ dimension. I was struck by their thoughtfulness. Not least about questions like ‘how to take action to combat the gap in educational attainment between pupils from lower income households’? Some of our discussion was about familiar themes but some was about the need for meaningful praise and positive feedback and how our identity and behaviour can be shaped by simple words of encouragement. It resonated with me.

I was made redundant in December. I knew it was coming because Yorkshire Forward was closing, as Director of HR I oversaw the people aspect of closure and I’ve made a lot of people redundant in the last 12 months, it’s truly horrible.

The loss of your job is without doubt a grief stricken process and we go through the grief cycle; of shock, denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. The word ‘redundancy’ captures much of it – the state of no longer being needed or useful. I confess it’s hard not to feel that way. I am lucky I know, I’m doing many positive things not least Chairing the Fairness Commission and I have opportunities and choices I can explore for this next phase of my life. I also have fantastic family and friends who are there when I get those “no longer useful” moments. And despite my circumstances I do get those moments. Which give me pause for thought . . .

A friend of mine went out to a business dinner to celebrate the Chinese New Year, he sat next to a business man who’d just been made redundant – the man was frightened and lost – he said to my friend “the worst of it is I don’t know who I am any more”. I think we all know what he means. There is an emptiness about being jobless, a lack of focus and a huge gap where the social gathering of colleagues should be. It is a frightening state – made worse by not knowing how long the situation will last. All this is without the harsh financial circumstances some people find themselves in. I know of people ‘downsizing’, of others living with friends or family, some who are worried to death about feeding their families and others who have taken very significant pay cuts just to find work.

And whilst I am thankfully not in that position, though I have been before many years ago, I still have those ‘no longer useful’ moments. They don’t last long I accept but they are there and it’s quite shocking. It caused me to remember the people who attended our launch who talked of mental health and the importance of our not being embarrassed by mental illness and the causes of it. As I acknowledge the sadness I have felt by being made redundant – no matter what wonderful opportunities that may lie ahead – I’ve come to realise that for many people in this cycle of grief – they are but a step away from a sadness they might never escape. It reinforces my view that in these circumstances the very last thing people need is further stress about where their next meal is coming from – I’m sure you agree.

If you or a family member are unemployed or have been made redundant – in the spirit of the Youth Councils ‘simple words of encouragement’ I give you Winston Churchill; “Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” Life is mountain is it not? We climb and overcome obstacles and unforeseen challenges or adventures – we lose and we gain people and possessions and jobs on the way and as the view from our own mountain becomes clearer and brighter and bigger we make progress, we climb and we are encouraged.

Yours for fairness
Ruth

Listening, learning and the smell of washing…..

Hi Fair people of York

I have been instructed by the powers that be (Jane – who is co-coordinating the Commission’s activities) that I should script another missive to you good and fair people – with particular reference to this week’s launch. 

Was musing about the event yesterday when I happened to glance outside to see a lovingly washed white shirt belonging to himself (for the uninitiated himself is other half) drifting untethered past the window. In a somewhat undignified rush I hastened to rescue said shirt – cats observing with feline disdain at the lack of composure of human female creature yelling. Rescued shirt – but shoeless so equally inevitably stood in something gungy – hopped indoors and washed foot. I fear it was a deceased mouse or part/s thereof. Is it the liver or the kidney that cats never eat – I can never remember . . .

 Anyway back to my musing of Wednesday night. It was (I think) Stephen Covey who first talked of empathetic listening.  Real listening . . .  the importance, the power, and in some situations the necessity of not merely going through the mechanical responses that might be required for ordinary listening, but opening oneself so we can start to feel what the speaker is feeling. The notion of being in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world through their eyes, is something we rarely do – isn’t it? Not least because it would ask too much of us to do it on a daily basis. But if the Commission is to acquire the ability to see Fairness simultaneously from multiple points of view then we must and the Commissioners all know that. Perhaps it is only through empathetic listening that we really learn . . . 

And so I contemplate my learning . . .

The articulate young people present, the passionate older ones, the learned, the interesting, the ones that teach us something with their advocacy and their knowledge. I learnt about mental health, volunteering, housing, transport, the voluntary sector – I could go on and on . . . . But I think what I learnt the most was that we do understand Fairness. And that in York it is tangible that people are interested in what Fairness means, how we can pursue it and where we should insist upon it. 

I said at the end of the launch meeting it was a perfect start – and it was – thoughtful, self- effacing, creative, intelligent and yes it was fun too. 

And so back to washing . . .  I love the smell of washing on the line – even if in flippin Yorkshire it’s so windy it blows away – why is this relevant? It reminds me of my Grandma who was a washerwoman – we had much much washing. In beautiful juxtaposition my Grandpa was a miner – so we had much black coal. Tangential thoughts . . .  possibly . . . but who amongst us does not think of the struggles of their parents and grandparents? Do any of us not look behind and know that their story is our story? Many of them living through war years, hardship, poverty, poor education and little opportunity – and we want better not just for our children but for all children. Smelling the washing takes me back – Fairness takes me forward.

 Speak soon

 Ruth

Welcome

Hi everyone

Thanks for looking at the Fairness Commission website and hopefully taking part! We’re all very keen that you do – otherwise it simply won’t work because we’ll not know what the good people of York really think about Fairness.

When I was first asked to Chair the Commission I mused about what I thought fairness was . . .  and in these days of google-mania I looked it up. There are legal fairness opinions apparently, in the States there was a fairness doctrine on the media. Inevitably there are many quotes about fairness – I like this one for example “Fairness is not an attitude. It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.” Then there are definitions:

Fair meaning Just – what is legally or ethically right or proper

Fair meaning Equitable – implying justice dictated by reason, or conscience, and a natural sense of what is fair

Fair meaning Impartial – a lack of favoritism

Fair meaning unbiased – an absence of a preference or partiality

And so it goes on . . .  and on . . .

Crumbs I thought – we’re never going to be able to accommodate what everybody thinks of as Fair. And so I did what I often do when the simple stuff has become complicated and asked my son, Theo (12 and three quarters). To be honest I was expecting something about teachers’ attitudes to detentions or the inevitable injustice of who has what phone or whatever. But his answer was clear – it was unfair that his Dad died last year when he was so young and when his friends still had Dads to talk to and do things with. Oh boy right about that isn’t he? Can’t tell you how his answer made me feel – suspect you can imagine . . .

So is this the nub of it – what we think we should have but we don’t? Particularly compared to other people? Mmm think I’m getting somewhere.

Without wandering off too far I recalled a conversation I had with the Archbishop of York – a really great man isn’t he? Anyway – he talked about his childhood and how little they had materially but it seemed more than enough because they were loved. From what he said it was clear that nearly everyone in his village/town had about the same – not much. I recalled my own childhood. I’m geriatric enough to remember everyone getting a telly and we didn’t have one. It was fine before all my friends had one – then lousy because I was the only one who didn’t. Seriously naff. Hence my expecting a superficial answer from Theo I suppose. But it adds up doesn’t it? Maybe Fairness is about the gap between what we see or know others to have and what we don’t have.

It was gratifying therefore to see a presentation from our two Commissioners, Richard and Kate. Both who have huge brains compared to mine I fear – how lovely it would be to have soooo much knowledge . . .  but I digress again. The presentation was about their findings about inequality and the fabulous book they jointly wrote (The Spirit Level). In essence they can demonstrate with facts what our instinct suggests – that Fairness is about the gap and not necessarily about what we actually have – or not. Interesting . . .  read the book if you can!

I could see my other two colleagues, John and John (we have a surfeit of Johns on the Commission) having light bulb moments too – with their huge understanding of the practical and the financial I suspect their light bulbs were different to mine – it gave us all much pause for thought . . .

It took me back to disability rights campaigning in my long lost youth. It wasn’t so much about what disabled and deaf people needed as such – it was more about the enormous gap between provision, access and opportunity for able bodied people and their disabled friends, colleagues or peers. I worry the gap isn’t that much smaller now . . .

Anyway have rambled on enough. Maybe you agree – maybe not  . . . love to hear your thoughts either way.

Yours for fairness

Ruth

PS Keep responses clean/polite would you please – we’re hoping that loads of people look and share and it will put some folks off if it isn’t very polite – am sure you know what I mean. Thanks all!