No one left behind
On 20 January, as pledged in my Vision for Belfast, I will host the first-ever Civic Forum in Belfast to address the scourge of poverty.
Facilitated by the Development and Environmental Health departments of Belfast City Council, the Forum will allow key civic, political and community leaders — including those charities and institutions focused on tackling disadvantage — to plot new ways to enhance and better co-ordinate their efforts.
Despite tough economic times, our focus on removing inequalities should never waver. As President Bill Clinton said at the inauguration this week of New York mayor Bill de Blasio, inequality is “an outrage”. President Clinton also branded inequality a barrier to economic development because it leaves so much human potential unrealised.
Mayor de Blasio pledged to take “dead aim” at New York’s inequalities; we echo those sentiments as we gear up for our Belfast Civic Forum on poverty.
As we build One City in Belfast, we are also mindful of the pioneering leadership of Pope Francis who has brought fresh urgency to tackling global poverty by asking, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
Having spent the run-up to Christmas learning from those charities and faith leaders (at the risk of repetition, I say it again: the most radical voices raised against poverty come from the churches and faiths) on the frontline of our battle against poverty and homelessness, I am convinced that we have the genius, the wealth and the will to ensure that no one in Belfast should have to live in poverty.
And, of course, a key part of abolishing poverty is creating jobs which provide a living wage. That is why I have made JOBS a top priority of my mayoralty.
Equality demands that all our people have equal access to the training and skills development to ensure they can access employment and that university places are available based on the ability to learn rather than the ability to pay.
The challenges are great but I am heartened by the progressive voices being raised for a new order. The voice of newly-inaugurated Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York. The voice of newly-inaugurated Mayor Marty Walsh in Boston. The voice of Pope Francis in Rome. And the voices of the people of the great city of Belfast.