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Yes, we can reduce poverty by improving places

16 July 2018 Author: Michele Vianello

Poverty in Britain is a major fault line dividing society and is concentrated in particular areas. Half of all poor children in England and Wales live in just 19 per cent of local authority districts.

Where we live plays a strong role in determining our life chances. Place-based policies that aim to tackle specific problems where people live in a targeted way can mitigate poverty’s worst effects and help lift hard-pressed groups out of it.

Planners and policy-makers across the UK have worked within existing constraints in public expenditure and legal frameworks to help deliver better, more equitable communities.

In 2016, the RTPI published a policy advice report titled “Poverty, Place and Inequality” by Victoria Pinoncely outlining how planning can contribute to the eradication of poverty in the UK.

Some plans are working

Two years on, many of the issues analysed in that report still need urgent action and could have a more central place in the national agenda. Planners and policy-makers across the UK have worked within existing constraints in public expenditure and legal frameworks to help deliver better, more equitable communities.

The Plymouth Plan, for example, aimed to integrate the planning, health and social care sectors and prioritise the importance of physical and financial access to facilities, services and opportunities. The Newcastle Fairness Commission report mapped inequality, drawing a link between lower place standards and the distribution of poverty in the city.

Using planning as a lever to fight poverty aligns with the Institute’s international mission. We are committed to promoting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have poverty eradication as their primary objective. “No Poverty” is the number one SDG.

Planning and Sustainable Development Goals

To support our work in promoting the value of planning to achieving SDGs around the world, my colleague Tom Kenny and I have re-edited the original report into a shorter article for publication in Dutch in Ruimte, the journal of the Flemish Association for Space and Planning.

This is part of the RTPI’s ongoing engagement with the European Council of Spatial Planners, the organisation that gathers national spatial planning institutes across the countries of the Council of Europe.

Using planning as a lever to fight poverty aligns with the Institute’s international mission.

The timing is no coincidence. The Council of Europe will still have relevance for our relationship with European countries as the UK leaves the EU. Council of Europe policies and treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, will remain in place after Brexit and have already proved to have tangible effects on UK planning, such as in the case of the Aylesbury Estate ruling.

In 2016, the UK Government refused Southwark Council in London the right to use a Compulsory Purchase Order to implement a regeneration project, citing a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as one of the reasons. This decision was upheld later that year by a ruling of the High Court of Justice, setting an interesting precedent.

Recommendations by the Council of Europe make explicit reference to the European Convention on Human Rights and to the Council’s Social Charter as a basis for upholding human rights and the rule of law across member countries, as well as for addressing poverty via housing, healthcare, social rights and other policies.

Role of planning in alleviating poverty underestimated

The RTPI and the planning profession are used to taking a spatial view on policy formation and social issues. However, policymaking, whether on local, national and international level, has often underestimated the vital importance of such a view.

A new study by the Institute reveals that the planning function has been relegated to lower positions in the corporate structure in 83% of local authorities across the UK – clear evidence that planning’s importance as a strategic tool that helps governments tackle social, economic and environmental challenges is not widely recognised and valued.

To fill this gap, planning policy will need to focus on promoting fairness, opportunity and social mobility through more concerted efforts that have places as their focus. Planners in the UK, and elsewhere, can do a lot more to explore how planning can contribute to addressing localised poverty.

Especially in the UK, amid the challenges of Brexit and tight resources, it is all the more important that councils ensure planners are involved in what they do – be it improving social care, regenerating deprived areas, setting up new schools, or adapting communities to climate change  -  so that the benefits to place-bound communities are holistically assessed and maximised.

We hope the publication of our article in Ruimte will be the start of future collaborations to inspire planning policy abroad and help the UK learn from other countries’ experience, while fostering good relationships among countries across Europe.

Michele Vianello

Michele Vianello

Michele Vianello is International Policy and Research Officer at the RTPI.