Companies are in the spotlight because the UK government is vigorously seeking work-based solutions to poverty and at the same time moving people off welfare. So what is the role of business in reducing poverty?
Sponsored by Kevin Hollinrake MP, Chair of the APPG on Poverty
Chair: Mike Parker, Honorary Secretary of the Webb Memorial Trust
- Dr Peter Kenway, Director of the New Policy Institute (Report on role of private sector employers with Poverty Alliance)
- Bob Tindall, Interim-CEO at The Abbeyfield Society
- Tina Hallett, Partner at PwC
- John Philpott, The Jobs Economist (Report on in-work poverty for Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
- Cameron Tait, Senior Researcher at The Fabian Society
- Clare Ludlow, Director of Innovation at Timewise Foundation (Report commissioned on flexible hiring)
“The business of business is business” – Milton Friedman
Business and society are often portrayed as unlikely bedfellows. The general belief is that, in order to provide societal benefits, companies must temper their economic success. Businesses provide many of our employment opportunities, create the goods and services we need, and pay taxes that support public services. However, research suggests that low wages, poor recruitment and contractual practices, and a lack of professional development opportunities, combined with the high costs attached to housing, transport and goods, are having a detrimental impact on many people in the UK.
There is a broad range of ways in which business could potentially alleviate these problems – for example, by improving employee benefits, increasing wages and ensuring worker representation on remuneration committees. Many of these may feel like a burden or a drag on profits, but in fact, much research suggests that addressing poverty is good for business as well as for those in poverty.
As the success of Living Wage Foundation has shown, there are growing expectations that businesses should also fulfil social responsibilities. Firms are under increasing pressure to justify zero-hour contracts, high levels of executive remuneration and questionable tax practices. More needs to be done to connect company success with social progress. Business and society are closely intertwined and interdependent, each requiring the other to be healthy and effective in order to achieve its own objectives.
There are good examples of companies taking positive action on poverty and doing well as a result. Indeed, there is a business case for taking action on poverty in the UK. The benefits are in three main areas: productivity, reputation and new opportunities.
From government to business, trade unions to charities and consumer groups, everyone must work together to identify opportunities for change and to help shape society. The joint aim should be to improve people’s lives – not least through job creation, training and professional development opportunities, as well as distribution of wealth.
The critical conclusion is: “If you want business to be involved, ask not what business can do to reduce poverty. Ask what reducing poverty can do for business.”
Please arrive at the Houses of Parliament by 15.00 in order to clear security. You may be asked for ID. Information about visiting Parliament can be found here. Tea and coffee with be available from 15:15
Tuesday 3 May 2016, 15.30 – 17.00, Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, Palace of Westminster
The APPG is supported by the Webb Memorial Trust who devoted their latest New Statesman supplement to the issue of business and poverty.