Students support the Living Wage
Students support the Living Wage

Councillor Lewis Herbert, Leader of Cambridge City Council

On Monday I contributed to a vital Cambridge Union debate on tackling inequality and gentrification and the contribution the University can make, issues that matter particularly for Cambridge as a small unique, high achievement city of global importance.

Led by our Universities, we are a city rich in education and research but we have challenges to match including being Britain’s most unequal city on income disparity. Life expectancy is ten years less in lower income parts of Cambridge.

Both our Universities play a big part in tackling inequality but there is much more that the University of Cambridge and its colleges in particular can do, and in ensuring they connect with people in all parts of the city. Rightly, our residents expect to live in a city where all Cambridge organisations play their part, including all large employers.

So here are four priority actions for Cambridge University and colleges to consider, each  explored skilfully in the powerful recent Cambridge Varsity film by Joe Cook and Abdullah Shah on Inequality in Cambridge – “A Choice to Look”.  I urge you to join the 170,000 people who have already watched it

Action One – All Colleges Should Pay a Minimum of the Real Living Wage

All 31 University colleges should follow the excellent example set by the University who pay this and the current minimum of £8.75 per hour (rising in November).  It’s not a lot and several colleges already pay it. It’s also the only way people working in the colleges can hope to afford the cost of renting a place in Cambridge.

Cambridge University Students Union and students and staff within colleges are campaigning for the Real Living Wage, and that it is also paid by main contractors too.  There is clear evidence that employers benefit, including retaining and motivating staff.

Action Two – Make More Affordable Rent Housing for Available for Low Income Staff

The University and colleges can do better in ensuring that lower paid staff get access to their existing and new housing, and at affordable rents. The University can make more homes on their NW Cambridge development available, and many colleges also own property, and development land within range of Cambridge.

Action Three – Help Develop the Skills of Non-University Local People

The University and several colleges including Homerton already make a hugely impressive contribution to local education through direct involvement in schools and the infusion of young graduates taking up teaching.

But Cambridge remains the fifth poorest performing UK city on teenager social mobility, at the same time as the city has one of the highest vacancy rates in Britain.  Along with Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge Regional College, who do an excellent job in developing the career ambitions talents of local young people, there is a depth of skill and talent in University departments that could make an added difference on vocational skills development, working with local businesses and schools.

Action Four – Open Up Routes Through Colleges to City Residents

This matters too, and we need to end the invisible barrier that splits central Cambridge in half for many residents.  Cambridge University and the colleges constitute a third of our central city area and as the film “A Choice to Look” shows, that area is seen as off limits to too many residents, particularly those from more disadvantaged parts of Cambridge.

We need to start breaking down the barriers, like starting with free access for residents only through the University and college zone east to west, including routes the path through King’s College to Queen’s Road.  We need the Cambridge Resident’s Card which allowed local people to walk the main routes east to west, and walk via colleges outside exam times.

In summary, I know from recent discussions that the University and colleges, with so much else to focus on, want to do more on inequality, as do all those connected to it, and town and gown together could make a real difference focusing on these four actions.


– Wednesday 31st October for local businesses, and
– Tuesday 6th November for a wider community representatives.
Both in the Guildhall council Chamber starting at 5.30pm.

If you want to attend either briefing, or have views to share on the four actions above, please email me at

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