Fairness in tough times: coping with 40% cuts to local government

Today the Tory-Lib Dem coalition is once again slashing funding for local government. Disgracefully, the country’s most deprived communities are receiving the biggest cuts. My local authority has suffered another £20million a year cut. This £20million is in addition to the eye-watering £120million a year cuts we have already received. Basically, since 2010 our budget has been cut by 38%.

So, how can local government cope with such devastating cuts?

It isn’t easy, but even in tough times local government has the power to make an amazing, positive difference to people’s lives. At a recent Council meeting Islington Labour looked back over the past three years at how our Fairness Commission recommendations had been implemented. I have included a few of the highlights below.

Fair pay

  • All Council employees are now paid at least the London Living Wage
  • Over 90% of the Council’s contracts now also pay at least the London Living Wage, with plans in place to reach 100% over the next two years
  • Cutting the Chief Executive’s pay by £50,000 along with the increase in pay for those on lower wages has reduced the Council’s pay differential to a ratio of 1:10

Dealing with debt

  • We opened a new  a new Citizens Advice Bureau in 2010 (the first new CAB in London in 20 years)
  • The Council’s Trading Standards team has mystery shopped payday lenders, gold buyers and pawn brokers to ensure they operate within the law
  • A Shop a Shark campaign was against illegal loansharks
  • We promoted the London Capital Credit Union – its membership rose from 2,866 in 2011 to 5,658 by March 2013

Housing

  • By 2015, Islington Labour have delivered  2,000 new affordable homes
  • Islington became the first council in the country to introduce a Rent Guarantee Scheme for tenants who downsize
  • 151 homes were recovered from illegal subletting and 139 empty properties were brought back into use
  • Islington Council’s pension scheme has invested £20m in new house-building nationwide

Young people

  • Islington Council gives Free School Meals to all primary school children
  • We offers school-leavers a £300 student bursary to replace the Educational Maintenance Allowance that the Tory-Lib Dem government has cut
  • We have established a Youth Council to guide the Council’s work with and for young people

A cleaner, greener environment

  • Islington has become London’s first 20mph borough
  • Local residents groups have been given funding to maintain their local open spaces
  • Islington Council has insulated over 16,000 residents’ homes to help tackle fuel poverty
  • We have built a communal power station to provide Bunhill residents with cheaper, greener heat

While there is still more to do, and times will get tougher with the cuts ahead, we have worked towards making Islington a better place for all its residents. Through our fairness agenda, Islington Labour is demonstrating the positive difference local government can make to our local community.

Here’s hoping an incoming Labour government in 2015 will be committed to funding local government properly and helping communities realise their potential.

 

Alice Perry is a Councillor is Islington and represents Labour Party Members in London on the National Policy Forum

Support for a Labour Assembly Against Austerity

Please add your name to the following statement:

The Tory-led Coalition’s cuts agenda has caused huge damage to the economy, slowing growth, increasing unemployment and reducing living standards of the majority of people.

Their ruthless attack on public services has also undermined the very fabric of our society and increased poverty and inequality. More and more people are out of work and reliant on foodbanks.

Austerity has even failed in its own aim of lowering the national debt, which has increased as the economy has stagnated. As a result, a number of proponents of austerity, including the IMF, have urged a slow down or rethink of Tory policy.

But despite the failure of these policies, the Coalition is even proposing that austerity be deepened and extended into the next parliament.

We reject austerity as a solution to the economic crisis. Instead of cuts, we support a plan for public investment and jobs that can get the economy growing.

We believe that only a Labour government can deliver this and that by offering a progressive economic alternative to austerity, Labour can best reach out to a broad coalition of voters whose living standards have declined under this the Coalition government. In contrast, sticking to the Tory spending limits in the next Parliament would be a disaster for Labour.

We therefore support the Labour Assembly Against Austerity in October 2013 that will reject cuts, look at the alternatives to austerity that Labour should advance in its next manifesto to stimulate growth, jobs and better living standards, and that will discuss how Labour Party members can be part of the broad based People’s Assembly Against Austerity movement of all opposed to austerity.

Dave Anderson MP, Katy Clark MP, Michael Connarty MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, John Cryer MP, Paul Farrelly MP, Paul Flynn MP, Kelvin Hopkins MP, Ian Lavery MP, John McDonnell MP, Michael Meacher MP, Grahame Morris MP

Called by:

NGL

 

Supported by:

CLPD1 LRC LF1 LB1 Chartist1

SELUK

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Putting the cap into capitulation

Despite attempts to spin it otherwise Ed Miliband’s speech yesterday on social security represents a complete capitulation. Capitulation to the Tories, capitulation to the media and capitulation to the Blairites within the Labour Party who for months have been trying to push him into accepting many of the Government’s welfare cuts. Unfortunately despite abandoning some of the most vulnerable in our society this capitulation will fail to satisfy those calling for a tougher stance on benefits. Instead if Labour is to win the welfare argument a braver stance is required.

The key policy announcement in Miliband’s speech was the introduction of a three year cap on ‘structural welfare spending’. Let’s be very clear ‘structural welfare spending’ includes the benefits that the most vulnerable in society are dependent on; Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Carers Allowance etc. A cap, combined with the admission that a future Labour Government would see the current Government’s spending plans as a starting point, suggests that the Labour leadership is accepting the welfare cuts; such as the 25% cut in the DLA budget; time limit on work related activity ESA and the change of indexation from the Retail Price Index to lower Consumer Price Index; which have caused such harm to disabled and vulnerable people in recent years.

In fact a cap could mean a future Labour Government could be forced to cut even further depending on the level at which it was set. Another policy outlined was plans to increase Jobseekers’ Allowance but increase the qualifying period for the support to people who had worked for five years. This increase would exclude young people, many carers and disabled people moving from Incapacity benefit or Employment and Support Allowance in one foul swoop.

Some, including some of the major trade unions, have praised Miliband’s speech for offering a clear alternative to the Tories. Much of this praise has centred on rhetoric around housing and the living wage. Unfortunately this was not matched by policies announced. There was little detail on how to roll out the living wage and the youth jobs guarantee could end up subsidising minimum wage employers. On Labourlist Mark Ferguson argued that the cap on benefits will allow Labour to take real action to curb housing costs yet hearing Liam Byrne on Radio 4 stating that rent controls would be a step too far suggests that this action will fall well short of what is required.

Ed Miliband claimed the rationale behind his policy announcements was that “people’s faith in social security has been shaken when it appears that some people get something for nothing and other people get nothing for something”. This backed is up by opinion poll after opinion poll which indicates that the public feel that at present welfare payments are too generous. This is unsurprising given the benefits narrative portrayed in the media. Earlier this week Nick Robinson referred to spending on DLA as ‘out of control’. No balance, no attempt to explain the importance of DLA on disabled people’s lives just a complete acceptance of the Tory line from the supposedly impartial BBC’s chief political correspondent.

Unfortunately for Ed Miliband his efforts to win over the media by accepting their welfare myths is doomed to failure. As Mark Serwotka has pointed out Labour are simply unable to out flank the Tories to the right on welfare. On the 1 O’clock news following his speech the BBC’s Norman Smith was already highlighting that Labour would not be ‘credible’ on welfare unless the public could see where the ‘pain’ was going to come from. If the BBC are openly advocating deeper welfare cuts it won’t be long before the rest of the media follow.

Instead Labour should be brave and look to fight for social security on their own terms. Earlier this week Ed Balls rejected claims the last Labour Governments overspent public money, Ed Miliband should take the same approach to social security. We should be proud, for example, that we oversaw a social security system which ensured that even in a period of recession child poverty fell. While this may be a daunting task he should take heart that in the past year when Labour has been prepared to fight the Tories over specific cuts to benefits such as the 1% cap and bedroom tax opinion polls show the public have supported the party’s stance. While such an approach would take real courage the alternative is capitulation and defeat.