Sam Davies

A collective failure

Today saw the annual publication of the Sunday Times Rich List. The Times list is behind a paywall but you can read details of the five inclusions from East Anglia thanks to the Eastern Daily Press.

[Interestingly, no-one from the Cambridge tech cluster is reported as having the necessary £350m to feature in the list. A previous representative, Mike Lynch, no longer features, as he was extradited to the USA a couple of weeks ago on fraud charges related to the £11bn sale of Autonomy to Hewlett Packard.]

The Rich List’s publication coincided with a press interview given by the Prime Minister, in which he was questioned about his own family’s appearance in the list and extensive wealth. His response:

“I think we’ve moved beyond judging people by what’s in their bank account … These things don’t bother me.”

So why am I referring to the List, the contents of which could be seen as prying or simply irrelevant? Well, contrary to the PM’s assertions, much of the casework I pick up and many of the conversations I have with people who are struggling indicate that there is still a huge tendency to judge people by what’s in their bank account … but it’s the people at the bottom who are being judged.

As I described in my recent presentation on the ‘double disadvantage’ of being poor in a largely affluent area, interviewees spoke of how external disdain and criticism reinforces their sense of impotence and having failed. One couple, battling with their housing association for repairs, said:

“Now we’re at the stage where we’ve been accused of harassing X Housing and are afraid to talk to them. They even made out we’re mentally unstable. They refuse to talk to us and when they do talk to us they speak to us like we are nothing but dirt. X Housing can ignore us and our repairs, or talk to us and do these repairs how they want, yet if we speak up we are warned that we can lose our home. There’s no justice in this and the way we been treated.”

The grinding poverty in which some residents in our unequal city live would be genuinely shocking to many whose prospects are rosier. This graph from the Resolution Foundation shows there is now a 4pt difference between the effective inflation rates for low and high income households, due to energy and food prices.

This is why I believe it is so important for all of the those individuals and organisations benefitting from being in Cambridge to make a really concerted effort to share the proceeds of their success. And why it sticks in my throat that activities which were set up to deliver accessible fun for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, like the Big Weekend and the ChYpPS play service, have been shut down due to the council’s dire funding situation. And, as local resident Antony Carpen wrote in February, that the lack of corporate sponsors willing to step in “represents a collective failure of Cambridge’s wealthy business sectors to support our city.” 

Other places, less advantaged places, can manage it.

There’s Festival Too, providing three weekends of free events in Kings Lynn in June and July. “The £140,000 cost is raised by local sponsorship, fundraising events and bucket collections. The event is not for profit and for the benefit of the community. Every single penny raised is put directly back into the Festival itself to provide free entertainment.”

Or perhaps you’d prefer the First Light Festival in Lowestoft? “First Light marks the first sunrise of midsummer on the UK’s most easterly shores with a celebratory weekend of unique performances and events under the solstice sun. Set amongst the golden sands and lush gardens of Lowestoft’s South Beach, First Light Festival’s outdoor programme is free, unticketed and for all.”

Or September’s Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts in Great Yarmouth? “Out There is now the region’s largest free festival of street arts and circus and regularly attracts audiences in excess of 60,000 people.”

It is true that First Light and Out There are substantially enabled by public funding, as well as local business. But the upshot is that Kings Lynn, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth (which, to put it mildly, have none of the economic advantages of Cambridge) can all provide ambitious programmes of free entertainment for all their residents over the summer.

And Cambridge can’t?

What is going wrong here?

Sam Davies


  • More evidence that Cambridge is a failed city, being run purely for the benefit of international corporates, where ordinary (long term) residents are looked upon as rather embarrassing inconveniences, lacking the photogenic cachet of the high tech computer professionals & lofty academics which our politicians seek to promote as the city’s brand.

  • How much do the Council need to reinstate these two areas of events, could residents work with the Council to approach our successful companies for sponsorship?
    The expertise to run them is obviously available as the Council have run these effectively previously, so half the battle is over.
    Any motivated individuals or groups out there?
    Thanks for raising as festivals promote civic pride and bring communities together which are positive reasons to see these carry on.

  • You are right to put inequality and the lack of free festivals together. The Spirit Level book which inspired The Cambridge Commons and many others of us highlighted the extraordinary damage done to families and communities living in extremely unequal locations. Relative wealth matters and isolates (ironically) the rich as well as the poor. Is that partly why the “rich” don’t sponsor festivals here? Community values are corroded as empirical evidence in the Spirit Level tells us will happen.

  • Absolutely Sam, Why can’t Cambridge put on these ‘free’ events that so many people from the City can enjoy? The reasons claimed are feeble & the potential for sponsorship is significant.