Put an end to apologies for immigration

‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ read the signs about 40 years ago, unfortunately the recent BBC Inside Out investigation seems to have taken us back in time revealing that such shocking levels of discrimination still exists.
The BBC undercover investigation found that estate agents in west London were prepared to discriminate against African Caribbean communities.  This should, theoretically, be illegal under the 2010 Equality act which says it is against the law for a business not to provide a service based on ethnicity.  However, despite saying that they could not openly discriminate the agents made it clear that there were ways around these rules – either by pretending that the property had already been let or by failing to get back to prospective tenants.
Housing Minister, Don Foster, reacted with horror saying ‘racism and discrimination has no place in London’. What the Minister failed to acknowledge was the role which the actions of politicians have on creating a climate in which such appalling racism can take place unchallenged for so long.  This Government bears particular responsibility with both its actions and words. The Home Secretary has talked of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants and backed this up with the appalling ‘Go Home’ vans, hardly the language of an inclusive society. Worse still, the Immigration Bill going through Parliament will compel landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, almost incentivising the activities exposed by the BBC’s Inside Out.
Although concerns have been expressed by some that previous speeches by Ed Miliband on immigration were ceding ground to UKIP and the far right in recent times Labour have moved in the right direction. Front bench spokespeople queued up to publically condemn the ‘Go Home’ vans and following the screening of Inside Out Communities Secretary, Hilary Benn, wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission asking them to ‘launch an immediate investigation into what had been uncovered’.
Unfortunately, despite excellent speeches in the House of Commons by David Lammy, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell in the Immigration Bill debates the decision of the front bench to abstain at 2nd Reading shows the party still has some way to go.
If we’re serious about fighting discrimination and racism we have to move away from apologies and abstentions and fight for a society ready to emphasise the positives of an inclusive multicultural society and which enjoys the benefits it brings.

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

London Labour and the anti-cuts movement

This weekend’s credit rating downgrading is yet another reason why the Labour Party must become more outspoken in its opposition to austerity. Growing opposition to the impact of Tory spending cuts on people’s living standards demands that the party connect with emerging community campaigns in defence of public services.

But alongside this, as it develops an investment alternative, it must begin by saying that Labour will reject spending cuts mapped out by George Osborne for a post-election government.

For me, this was the message from members at London Labour Party conference on 16th February, who were in a combative mood, with the Tory government in their sights. London Labour members want their representatives to employ a language that connects with ordinary voters and voices public outrage at the impact of Tory cuts. Policy debates saw repeated attacks on the cuts, whether in emergency services, health, education or local government, delivered by activists from all wings of the party with a greater urgency and a harsher tone than anything heard in Westminster.

Much of the talk was defensive and focused on the immediate threats to living standards brought about by the cuts now coming into force. The current hospital campaigns across the capital and the imminent implementation of benefit cuts were at the forefront.

But members were also encouraged by Ed Miliband’s opposition to the proposed benefit cap and redistributive proposal in the week before of a mansion tax to fund a reduced income tax band for those earning least. Popular with the public, it is also popular with members.

Facing those immediate threats though, there was a clear desire to co-ordinate our opposition, pool our resources, and focus fire on the Coalition. In policy terms the key arguments were that we must oppose privatisation while giving a robust defence of government and local authority intervention in the market. The leadership must take this cue to champion interventionism.

This was demonstrated in the NHS debate, with the commitment to ‘restore the principle of a publicly owned, publicly provided, and publicly accountable NHS’ and to ‘work with health unions, the medical and other health professionals and NHS supporters to campaign against privatisation, cuts and closures’ from the 2012 Annual Conference was passed.

And in the housing debate, where the key policy motion stated that ‘where housing benefits are high, the beneficiaries are not, in fact, the low waged tenants, but the extortionate landlords who own the homes and the skinflint employers who pay them such low wages’. Capping rents, regulating private rented sector, initiating an urgent expansion of council housing and using public funds to bring empty and unused properties back into use were all proposed as alternatives.

We clearly need better co-ordination in the London Labour family on housing. While a few campaigning administrations stand out, too many do not. There are good Labour councils working hard to challenge the government policies that are exacerbating the housing crisis but not everyone within Labour is doing the same thing. A very welcome vote in favour of a special Labour conference of Labour Groups and CLP members backed by the conference, is an opportunity to co-ordinate that.

And the explosion in public outrage at the impact of spending cuts in the NHS was clearly represented in the conference hall. The impressive campaign to save Lewisham Hospital has set the standard for a myriad of campaigns across London to defend other hospitals, including my local, the Whittington. The UNISON motion took apart the privatisation plans in the Health and Social Care Act, while four emergency motions were submitted and passed, committing the London Labour Party to back London demonstrations in defence of the NHS, until a Labour government can reverse cuts.

With an increased willingness to oppose individual cuts, we must develop the broader narrative of ‘austerity isn’t working’. Community campaigns against cuts must be supported, but we need to put our money where our mouth is. As the Labour Party must become more outspoken in its opposition to austerity it should make absolutely clear its outright rejection of any spending limits set out for a post-election government.

Even before it is prepared to set out it’s spending commmitments, the Labour leadership must make clear there is no future for the Coalitions disastrous cuts under a Labour government.

It can and should make that commitment now, but it must develop its own interventionist spending alternative. Because while we oppose cuts for their attack on living standards, we also know investment is necessary to generate new jobs and economic growth.

The anti-cuts campaign is stepping up, Labour must be part of it.

 

London Labour Party Conference February 2013 decisions