When people who don’t know the borough think of Islington they undoubtedly think of expensive coffee shops, multi-million pound Georgian houses and political deals brokered in expensive restaurants. In fact they probably think the whole borough is about to decamp to a villa in Tuscany.
These impressions couldn’t be further from the truth.
Islington is the eighth most deprived borough in England. Just as importantly, we’re one of the most unequal boroughs in the country. The average income of an owner-occupier is £50,000 a year, while the annual average income of a Council tenant is £6,000.
45% of Islington children – that’s 18,000 young people – live in poverty. A similar number of children live in a household in which no-one works.
The evidence is depressingly clear that someone’s health, educational achievement and experience of crime are strongly linked to their income.
Inevitably this creates inter-generation problems where families get stuck in a cycle of worklessness, poor health and poverty. 95% of Islington’s young people not in education, employment or training come from a family where no-one works. Our borough’s defining characteristic is unfairness, because the circumstances a person is born into dictates so much about the rest of your life.
Breaking this cycle of deprivation and giving new chances in life to the thousands of people stuck in poverty should be central to Labour’s thinking. The actions of the ConDem government, particularly the mass lay-offs of public sector workers, the cuts to benefits and the cap on housing benefit, will further entrench the deprivation cycle.
Labour’s excellent local election results in May – winning Liverpool, Coventry, Doncaster, Oxford and eight London boroughs, including Islington – means we are once again the party of cities. Labour in Local Government has the opportunity to come up with solutions to the cycle of deprivation that are driven by our values and that can show leadership to the rest of the party.
Islington’s newly-elected Labour Council is establishing the Islington Fairness Commission. The commission, to be chaired by Prof Richard Wilkinson, author of “The Spirit Level“, will look at how over the medium and long term Islington Council can work to reduce poverty and inequality in our borough.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book shows beyond reasonable doubt that high levels inequality and unfairness lead to everyone, including the better off, having a lower standard of life. Over the next few months we will be looking at how we as a borough can cut poverty; reduce the gap in health, education achievement, housing and crime between the haves and the have-nots; as well as looking at how we can persuade our more affluent residents to contribute more to the borough – which doesn’t just mean contribute more money but also use their skills, networks and time for the public good.
Along with Lambeth Labour’s interesting work to develop a ‘co-operative council’ the Islington Fairness Commission shows Labour in local government is doing the real work to think about how our party can actually improve social justice despite the best efforts of the government to deepen unfairness and inequality.
The Labour Party desperately needs to move beyond group self-flagellation about mistakes our government made and onto how we can stand up to the unnecessarily large and ideologically driven cuts the Tory-Liberals propose and how the next Labour government can pick up the pieces of what looks likely to be a broken economy and society. To win again, we need to show people how Labour will help people to get on in life; partly by making the case that it will be easier for people to realise their hopes for themselves and their family in a fair and cohesive society.
The Islington Fairness Commission isn’t itself a party political group but will show what a Labour-run council committed to making an area fairer and more equal can actually do.
You can find out more about the commission here.