Fairness in tough times
Mary’s a single mum who lives on a council estate here in Islington with her three children, Josh, aged 9, Michael, 18, and Lisa, who’s 20*.
They used to live in an overcrowded property, at least one bedroom short of what the family really needed. It was hard for her kids to do their homework, growing up in such cramped conditions, and Mike’s asthma was made worse by the condensation and mould that they couldn’t get rid of.
Now, Mary and her family live in a brand new flat on the same estate which she got first dibs on through the Local Lettings scheme, and where she pays Social Rent, which is a third of what some of her neighbours seem to pay private landlords for similar flats in the block next door.
Mary works as a cleaner for the Council. She used to be employed by a private contractor at not much above the Minimum Wage: now she does the same job, but works for the Council itself, and gets paid the full London Living Wage of £8.80 an hour. She knows that one of the reasons her wages went up is because the Chief Executive’s pay got cut by £50,000 to pay for it, closing the gap a bit between those at the bottom and those at the top of the Town Hall. So now she only has to work one job, unlike before, when she had to do catering at the Emirates on match days as well to make ends meet. So, she gets to spend a bit more time with her kids at weekends and can afford the odd Christmas present, which makes a world of difference at that time of year. When she’s asked about the difference an extra quid or two an hour has made, she uses words like ‘earnt’ and ‘dignity’.
She’s got two other friends who’ve had a pay-rise these last couple of years as well: Nathan, who’s a security guard, and Jessie, who’s a dinner lady at a local school. Her friend Moira, who does home care visits, says she might get a pay rise too, in the summer. About time, Mary figures, given there aren’t many jobs more important than Moira’s, looking after our grandmas and granddads when they can no longer look after themselves.
Mary’s had her fair share of money troubles though, and her son Mike has too – he’s a lot like his mum. So she’s been grateful for the support she’s got on how to deal with debt from the folk at the new Citizens Advice Bureau that opened up on Upper Street. They referred Michael onto the Fit Money programme too, where he’s been learning a bit about how to manage his money as well. She’d got into trouble before, borrowing from The Money Shop in Finsbury Park when there always seemed to be too much month at the end of her money. She heard about the local Credit Union though through some colleagues at the Council, and now she puts away a few pounds at the end of each month into a savings account there, through payroll. It’s not much, but it means that she’s been able to take out what they call a Saver Loan at sensible rates. The Council even put £40 into her savings account to help her get started. She realises now that the interest she was having to pay The Money Shop was a total rip-off. It makes her want to spit whenever she walks past there these days and they’re handing out branded balloons to mums with prams.
Mary’s kids aren’t perfect, but they mean the world to her, and now their futures are looking a bit brighter, she says. Michael got some mentoring in his last year at school, which seemed to really help with his confidence, and he’s had a work experience placement that the Council helped set up, which helped him see that working is a damned sight better than sitting on the dole like his dad used to, feeling like he wasn’t up to much. Now Michael goes to college, and, although the government cut the Educational Maintenance Allowance, he gets £300 a year from the Council in the form of a bursary to buy the books and kit he needs.
Lisa’s currently doing an apprenticeship at a City firm who are in some sort of partnership with the Council, learning how the systems work behind that all-important Reception desk. She can see herself working there full-time in the future, but knows she’ll have to knuckle down and impress as an apprentice first, ‘cos the job market’s really tough.
Meanwhile, Josh’s marks are improving at school. Mary knew he had it in him. But getting a proper hot meal every day for lunch has definitely helped, and his classmate Ryan’s less disruptive too, now he’s off the Lucozade and out of the Chicken Shop. The best thing is, the food is free. And because everyone gets it, Josh and his mates don’t have to worry about whose mum can afford to buy them dinner and whose can’t. At a saving of over £300 a year, not having to find the cash for school dinners is a godsend. Josh is also reading a lot more than he used to, after he took part in some ‘Word’ festival last year at school. Although the books were on the back burner over half term last week, ‘cos Josh was out all day playing footie with his pal, Aaron, on a new pitch that just got built on what was a bit of waste land on the estate around the corner where he lives.
If you ask Mary, she’ll always tell you the Council should be investing in young people, as Islington’s future. In fact, Mary reckons that you’ve got to get to ‘em when they’re really young – in that crucial first year, or even beforehand when they’re still just a bump – to make the biggest difference to how they end up later on. Josh certainly benefited from his Sure Start Children’s Centre – Mary just wishes, for the sake of her friends with young children, that there were more affordable childcare around. She knows though that children’s centres are getting closed down up North, where her brother lives, and she’s glad that isn’t happening here.
God knows how she finds the time, but Mary’s also been doing a bit of volunteering this winter, looking out for some of the older people on her estate when it’s been cold. Good Neighbours, they call it. It’s meant she’s met a few people she might never have done otherwise as well, from the other side of the road, where the houses are proper posh. She thinks the idea though that people with a bit of time or money should chip in to help out in the community is spot on. Islington Giving they call it, she says.
All in all, Mary reckons that Islington isn’t a bad place to bring up her family these days. She’s a bit wary of words like Fairness, as she figures it means different things to different people, and she’s never really been one for high-faluting Commissions, whatever they are. But if it means leveling the playing field a bit, so her kids have as good a chance to get on as those across the road, and if it means focusing a bit on those who are struggling because they need it most, then it’s alright by her…
You can read the paper on tonight’s agenda about the progress we’ve made, implementing the recommendations of the Islington Fairness Commission. There are lots of impressive words and numbers in it. But, in between the lines, I hope you can read stories like Mary’s. Because those stories are out there, on every street, from Archway down to Finsbury and from the Cally Road to Clissold Park. They’re what local politics is all about. They show that ‘on your side’ and ‘fairness in tough times’ are not just empty rhetoric. We are making a difference. Let’s keep it up...
* This fictional family illustrates the real impact the Fairness Commission has had.
This speech was delivered at last week's full council meeting. Cllr Andy Hull co-chaired the Islington Fairness Commission and is now Islington Council’s Executive Member for Finance and Performance. He tweets at @AndyHull79
Fairness in tough times Mary’s a single mum who lives on a council estate here in Islington with her three children, Josh, aged 9, Michael, 18, and Lisa, who’s 20*....
Deposits of private renters are held in the government backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme. A significant amount of money has accumulated from unclaimed tenant’s deposits since the scheme was launched in 2007. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme now intends to donate this money to charities that provide education and training to improve standards of behaviour and practice among private landlords and tenants.
While we welcome the news that this money will fund training and education, we believe that a large portion should be donated to charities and other organisations, like Shelter or the Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, which provide advice and support to private renters. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme should also look into making the money available to the rising number of private tenants organisations in London and across the country.
London’s housing crisis has seen a rise in tenants paying large sums of money for sub-standard accommodation. This money, which after all comes from the pockets of private tenants to, should be used to help renters in crisis and actively encourage tenants to get organised and know their rights.
Cllr Alice Perry, Labour & Islington Private Tenants
Deposits of private renters are held in the government backed Tenancy Deposit Scheme. A significant amount of money has accumulated from unclaimed tenant’s deposits since the scheme was launched in...
Cllr Janet Burgess, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing, has been shortlisted for the ‘Age UK Award’ at the prestigious LGiU and CCLA annual Councillor Achievement Awards.
The award recognises councillors who ‘make change happen on issues of concern to older people’ and in shortlisting Cllr Burgess the judging panel highlighted her efforts to introduce the council’s first Older People’s Champions, offer free swimming for all over 60s in all Islington funded leisure centres and protect social care for people with moderate needs. Last year, Islington became the joint first local authority in the country to sign Unison’s Ethical Care Charter and commit to ending poverty pay for home care workers with new contracts that pay the London Living Wage.
Cllr Janet Burgess said: "I am really honoured to be nominated for this award for the work we are doing in Islington to support older people. In Islington there is a high level of poverty among pensioners, so despite massive government cuts helping them both through the Council and via voluntary groups is really important."
The winners will be announced at a ceremony in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour at Westminster City Hall on Tuesday 25 January.
It is the third year in a row that Islington’s Labour Councillors achievements have been celebrated. Last year, Cllr Catherine West collected ‘Leader of the Year’ and Cllr Joe Caluori won the Bruce-Lockhart Member Scholarship. In 2012, Cllr Andy Hull won ‘Scrutineer of the Year’ for his groundbreaking work on Islington’s Fairness Commission, the first in the country.
Cllr Janet Burgess, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Health & Wellbeing, has been shortlisted for the ‘Age UK Award’ at the prestigious LGiU and CCLA annual Councillor Achievement Awards....
I'm really delighted that Government figures released today have confirmed that 63.2% of pupils in the borough achieved five A*- C grades – including the key subjects of English and Maths – in 2013.
The transformation in our secondary schools over recent years has been nothing short of amazing, and these results are a validation of all the hard work undertaken by pupils and teachers. I'm particularly pleased that Islington have improved significantly faster than the national rate over the last five years, and by a whopping 10 percentage points in the past year alone!
Despite a drop across England, we have seen an increase in the level of students attaining top grades (three or more A – A* grades)
Islington is joint-top in the country for the number of secondary schools rated as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, with all of our secondary schools achieving good or outstanding status.
At a time when Michael Gove and the Tory-led Government seem hell-bent on dismantling our education system, the experience of Islington’s ‘Community of Schools’ model clearly shows that with strong support from the local authority, strong leadership from heads and commitment from Governors, community schools can and will succeed.
It’s important to remember, beyond the league tables and number crunching, that these results represent better outcomes for Islington children and will give our pupils greater opportunities to thrive and achieve their ambitions.
The challenge to all of us now is to sustain and improve on these results in future years!
Cllr Joe Caluori
Executive Member for Children and Families Labour Member for Mildmay Ward, LB Islington
I'm really delighted that Government figures released today have confirmed that 63.2% of pupils in the borough achieved five A*- C grades – including the key subjects of English and...
When Anna sought help from a Solace Women's Aid refuge she had no money and had experienced abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. With a young child in tow, she did not even have a home to go to.
A lease was arranged on an unfurnished flat for Anna (not her real name) and an application made to Islington's resident support scheme for things like furniture, including a bed and sofa.
The Women's Aid refuge offered support, working closely with the council, to make sure that Anna was helped to find a job and get money advice. It was because of this that Anna and her child could rebuild their lives.
The council was able to help because of funding, but now families already left reeling from successive cuts to social security are about to be hit again. This time, the government has decided to axe the local welfare provision grant.
The £172m national scheme, which Islington council uses its £1.2m share of to provide essential goods and small cash payments to residents in crisis like Anna, will be scrapped from 2015-16. It is the latest in a series of steps the government has taken; the impact being that local authorities feel ever more pressure to deliver vital welfare services with ever-diminishing budgets.
Last year council tax benefit was localised and at the same time cut by 10% – a £2.9m loss in our borough alone.
Despite concern that some local authorities have failed to spend their funding for crisis grants in full (see Simon Danczuk MP's article on the Guardian Local Leaders Network on 7 January), in Islington where 42% of children grow up below the poverty line we are on target to spend our full allocation of £1.2m in each of 2013-14 and 2014-15.
No money has been offered to compensate the council for this cut. Indeed, it comes at a time when the government is slashing more than £20m (11%) from the council's core grant next year alone.
In 2012, concerned that aspects of the local welfare provision grant were to be devolved with a reduced budget, Islington council teamed up with local grant-giving charity Cripplegate Foundation to support Islington residents when they need it most. Islington's resident support scheme (RSS) was born. Run in partnership with Cripplegate, who include their own grants in the scheme, the RSS also benefits from other charities pooling their resources and expertise.
We have been using our RSS to shield our poorest residents – including homeless people, those with chronic illnesses, mental health issues and physical disabilities - from the worst excesses of the government's welfare reforms.
All the money we have spent from the fund has supported those in genuine need – keeping families together, sustaining tenancies and helping residents on the breadline to survive.
But the government's latest short-sighted cut means more tough decisions lie ahead for councils, charities and residents like Anna. The support Anna got has helped her rebuild her life and provide a home for her son. I don't believe that Hertfordshire council's failure to spend its crisis fund in full should mean that people like Anna here in Islington have another lifeline cut.
Cllr. Andy Hull is executive member for finance at Islington council. He tweets @AndyHull79
This article was first published on the Guardian Local Leaders Network
When Anna sought help from a Solace Women's Aid refuge she had no money and had experienced abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. With a young...
Islington has a proud tradition of artistic creativity. Many wonderful artists have made our borough their home. Art plays an important role in our society. Art supports tourism, our creative industries and helps us achieve a better understanding of ourselves.
It’s great to see the University of the Arts students flourishing in Islington, especially since the opening of their fantastic new campus in King’s Cross. The UK must continue to support art and art education. I support the University of Arts Student Union “Arts for All” Campaign. Themes of the campaign includes promoting art education as a public good, investing in the creative industries and protecting funding for arts subjects in Schools. Let’s keep art accessible for all our community.
Cllr. Alice Perry
Islington has a proud tradition of artistic creativity. Many wonderful artists have made our borough their home. Art plays an important role in our society. Art supports tourism, our creative...
No one should be paid less than they can live on and as a Council we are committed to playing our role in making sure they don’t have to.
Islington’s Labour Council is proud to be one of the UK’s first Councils be accredited as a Living Wage employer. We pay all our council workers the London Living Wage or more and it’s great that most of the council’s contractors have now also signed-up to become Living Wage employers.
It is extremely disappointing, however, that a minority of private companies, particularly those responsible for delivering social care, still do not pay their staff a Living wage.
Islington’s carers do an incredibly important job. Carers work long hours in challenging circumstances caring for our neighbours, family and friends. Society should value their hard work and dedication. The very least they deserve is to be paid a London Living wage.
This letter was published in this week’s Islington Gazette
Cllr. Alice Perry
No one should be paid less than they can live on and as a Council we are committed to playing our role in making sure they don’t have to. Islington’s...
The safety of cyclists on Islington's roads is a matter of life and death which the council takes extremely seriously. So, at last night's council meeting, amid ongoing concern following a spate of fatal accidents in the capital, I announced a new three-part package of measures to be introduced by summer next year:
The safety of cyclists on Islington's roads is a matter of life and death which the council takes extremely seriously. So, at last night's council meeting, amid ongoing concern following... Read more
By Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children & Families Back in July I wrote about Michael Gove’s move to take a plot of land from the Council on which we plan to build 82 family homes, so that two private companies can start a Free School on the site – a school which we neither want nor need.
By Cllr Joe Caluori, Executive Member for Children & Families Back in July I wrote about Michael Gove’s move to take a plot of land from the Council on which... Read more
I welcome this opportunity to talk about the scourge of betting shops in our borough. I feel particularly strongly about this, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for some time and partly because they are a particular issue in my ward and in Islington as a whole. Unless people live in an area like ours, which has seven or eight betting shops on one high street, they cannot understand the blight that the proliferation of these places represents.
I welcome this opportunity to talk about the scourge of betting shops in our borough. I feel particularly strongly about this, partly because I have campaigned on the issue for... Read more