Real change in Islington, fairness in tough times
These are very difficult times for councils. We’re in the middle of the biggest funding cut since the second world war – figures out this week show that areas with high levels of deprivation, like Islington, are seeing our budgets slashed by almost 10 times the amount lost by the more affluent, mostly Tory, boroughs.
Despite its swanky reputation, Islington is 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 3,000 families are suffering in severely overcrowded homes.
The biggest challenge for me, as leader of the council, has been how to create a fairer borough at a time of massive cuts. Labour councils like Islington have focused on supporting frontline services – keeping our communities strong and safe and sharing the burden of cuts as fairly as possible.
The way we’ve gone about it has shown how Labour can make Islington fairer by providing real help that makes a difference. Here are some examples:
• Launching the Islington Fairness Commission, the first in the country, setting our 19 recommendations to create a fairer borough including supporting 750 parents back into work and piloting a mentoring programme for 18-24-year-olds.
• Building 2,000 new affordable homes, Islington’s biggest affordable housebuilding programme in 30 years, and becoming the only London council to reject the Tories ‘affordable’ rents and commit to genuinely social rent.
• Opening a new Citizens Advice Bureau, the first in London for over 20 years. Over 1,500 local people walked through its doors in the first three months, showing just how vital this help is in these tough economic times.
• Becoming the first accredited living wage council in the country. We’re now working to introduce a living wage for care workers.
• Introducing a student bursaries scheme that will pay £300 per year to Islington students who were in receipt of free school meals, going some way to help young people devastated by the Tories’ decision to scrap EMA.
• Keeping all our children’s centres and libraries open as well as our flagship policy of free school meals for all our primary school children.
Labour in local government across the country can make a difference. We are finding innovative ways to address inequality in tough times in a way that is uniquely Labour, and focuses on protecting our communities against this government’s slash-and-burn agenda.
Catherine West is the leader of Islington council and is speaking at the Labour Women’s Network political day tomorrow in a session titled ‘Skill sharing: Practical tips from Labour’s best’ which starts at 3.30pm. To book for conference, sign up here.
Catherine West, Citizens Advice Bureau, council housing, education maintenance allowances, EMAs, Fairness Commission, free school meals, Labour Womens Network, libraries, living wage, lwn12, Sure Start