Despite its swanky reputation, Islington is actually the country’s 14th most deprived local authority area: half our children grow up in poverty; half our older people live in fuel poverty; and over 3000 families are suffering in severely over-crowded homes. But we also have more than our share of millionaires, making it one of the most unequal places in Britain.
When we came to power in 2010 we made it our main aim to reduce these inequalities. Inspired by Richard Wilkinson’s argument in ‘The Spirit Level’ that a more equal society is better for everyone, we established the Islington Fairness Commission to provide a framework for tackling poverty and reducing inequality in the borough.
Over the last two years we’ve made a lot of progress and have achieved much to be proud of. We’ve kept our flagship policy of free school meals for every primary school child in the borough; opened London’s first new Citizens Advice Bureau in over 20 years and become one of the first two Councils accredited as a London living wage employer. We’ve also embarked on an ambitious and much needed house building programme that will see us create 1,800 new and genuinely affordable homes by 2014.
Despite massive and unfair Government cuts we’ve protected all our libraries and children’s centres, kept social care for adults with moderate needs, and created a popular hotline for reporting anti-social behaviour.
We have to make the case for why voting Labour in local elections makes a difference, and in Islington I believe we are achieving that.
However, while we have achieved a great deal since taking control in 2010, the last two years have been an incredibly difficult time for local government. The Tory led government has hit us severely, and councils with the highest levels of deprivation have been slashed the most. In Islington the situation is no different – by 2014 our Council will have been cut by £100 million a year, almost a third of our general budget, with the promise of more Tory cuts to come.
In Islington we have shown how a Labour national government can make Britain fairer despite scarce resources just like the Labour government did in 1945.
What would we want from a Labour government?
Jobs and training offer for young people
Under the current government young people have been hit disproportionately – they’ve lost Educational Maintenance Allowance, university fees have trebled and youth unemployment currently stands at its highest level since 1996. We genuinely risk seeing a generation left behind, and Labour needs to tackle this.
The reintroduction of EMA would go a long way towards tackling these problems. EMA helped many students stay in education and by bringing this back it would help more students receive the skills they need to move into the workplace.
In Islington we’re doing what we can, and just this month introduced a student bursary to give £300 per annum to some of our poorest young people in education. However, with ever tightening budgets this will only go so far and couldn’t possibly replace the EMA scrapped by this government. Labour needs to think seriously about bringing EMA back.
I also believe Councils, who know their own areas best, should be given the powers to develop their local youth unemployment strategies and commission work. That way we’ll have a single organisation with an oversight of the whole system that can drive progress.
But at the moment the government keeps removing the powers needed to get on with the job. Schools are now responsible for careers advice, the DWP commissions (ineffectively) private sector organisations to work with young unemployed people while the Department for Education commissions post-16 courses despite having no local knowledge. The Tories have created a mess that is making it much harder to get to grips with youth unemployment.
Axe the New Tory Poll Tax
Ed Miliband rightly attacked the Tory led government’s 2012 budget as “making millions pay more while millionaires pay less.” From next April, 5.9 million households with the lowest incomes in Britain will pay more Council tax in a scheme we are calling the new Tory Poll tax. At the same time those who earn one million pounds a year will pay £40,000 pounds less tax per year.
Islington Labour is campaigning hard against this new poll tax and calling for it to be reversed.
This is not only the fair thing to do, it also makes economic and electoral sense. The £420 million cost of axing the poll tax is a fraction of the revenue the 50p tax brought in. Every economist will tell you that poor people spend every penny they get locally and quickly, so the money will be immediately pumped into the economies of the hardest hit local economies.
Secondly the electoral advantages fit the five million lost votes analysis advanced by Ed Milliband that most of the votes Labour lost were working class votes. What better way to show we are on their side then to reverse the Tory Poll Tax and put some money in their pocket.
Cllr Catherine West is Leader of Islington Council