This Interim report has been sent to all of the relevant Councillors in Islington Council.
On Saturday 17th September 2011 over 80 people attended Islington People’s Assembly, organised by Islington Hands off Our Public Services (Ihoops). The following is a report on the outputs from the People’s Assembly that relate to Islington Council. Other actions, such as NHS issues, will be progressed in other ways. There are eight sections and the theme for each is briefly summarised and then followed by our demands on Islington Council, including aspects where we hope we can work together.
The Tory-led coalition government is implementing a wide programme of devastating cuts in public sector spending. The cuts threaten a huge range of services that ordinary people rely on, from the NHS and pensions to local public services, community organisations, benefits and access to education.
On Saturday 17th September 2011 over 80 people attended Islington People’s Assembly, organised by Islington Hands off Our Public Services (Ihoops). Workers, trade unionists, community groups and local residents met to debate and discuss what could be done to stop the government’s assault on our communities, jobs and lives. There were a range of speakers and workshops covering the many areas in which the Tory cuts are impacting on the local community.
In February 2010 Islington Council voted through a range of cuts totalling over £40m in cuts to public services, and have stated a figure of £39m in cuts for 2011-12. It is clear that these cuts would not only further decimate a community already struggling following last year’s cuts, but would also lead to huge increases in social problems such as crime, youth offending, mental health problems and homelessness. All problems, which, in turn, will cost significantly more to remedy than the preventative services originally funded to avoid them.
The following is a report on the outputs from the People’s Assembly that relate to Islington Council. Other actions, such as NHS issues, will be progressed in other ways. There are 8 sections and the theme for each is briefly summarised and then followed by our demands on Islington Council, including aspects where we hope we can work together.
Education for all: schools, colleges and universities
The education workshop brought together students, parents and teachers from different sectors – primary and secondary school, FE College, youth services and Higher Education. There was a wide ranging discussion. Cuts and privatisation are destroying existing structures and many vital services that provide for the most vulnerable children. Retired head teacher Sue Seifert spoke of her dismay that vital services were being cut and that, once gone; they are likely to be lost forever. The cuts in funding which have resulted in a total of twenty six staff, both teachers and support staff in the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS) being made redundant is an example of significant services, impacting often on the most vulnerable children, being lost.
It was recognised that the council, Ihoops and local education unions had worked well together campaigning against the specific threat of academy conversions. It was felt that a similar approach to youth unemployment, the cuts to EMA and the introduction of tuition fees could benefit from the same alliance approach. However some of us felt that by implementing Coalition cuts the Council is making it more difficult to achieve this unity. We want to work with the council in opposing cuts and want to see Councillors leading the whole community in a fight against cuts as a matter of urgency. We would like to see the council engage in a wide ranging discussion with all those involved, seeking to democratise the decisions about education provision. Ihoops are keen to work with others in such a forum to produce an alternative manifesto for education and youth services in the borough: outlining what needs to be done to improve education, and to make it more democratically accountable, involving children, young people and their parents as well as workers in the education and youth services.
Education: Key Demands for the Council.
1. There is an existential threat to public education from academies and free schools. We have to be positive and proactive in defending public education, and we want the council to be equally proactive
2. To encourage local trade union branches and workplace groups to invite local councillors to attend their meetings to discuss educational issues and to urge the councillors to take up the invitations.
3. To call on Islington council to create a forum for all those involved to discuss the future of education in Islington after it is brought back “in house” in 2013, following the end of the contract with Cambridge Education
Decent Pensions for All: The fight for dignity in old age
The pension’s workshop discussed the need to campaign for Pensions for All. The demand has now been adopted by the TUC. The 30th November which is likely to be a date of strike action by public sector unions is a key date to campaign around Pensions for All.
The importance of building solidarity across the generations was discussed. Supporting and developing the kind of forums that had been begun at the People’s Assembly is a necessary part of doing this.
The workshop also discussed the issue of fuel poverty and its impact on elderly people. The need to defend winter fuel payments and campaign against cuts in them was identified. A free national health care system was seen as necessary to establish dignity in old age. Similarly maintaining a warden service in sheltered housing and preventing cuts to lunch clubs which provide a range of support and services for elderly people was seen as vital.
Pensions: Key Demands for the Council
1. The council to ensure no cuts to wardens in sheltered housing
2. The council to defend and protect lunch clubs and ensure no cuts to these services.
3. To work with other organizations including Ihoops and Islington Pensioners Forum to build solidarity across the generations and find ways of developing opportunities to do this.
4. To work with local public sector unions to support the Nov 30th pensions strikes and demonstrations.
The attack on the NHS and mental health services: Keep the NHS public
The workshop discussed the huge attack facing the NHS. The Health and Social Care Bill currently on its way through the Houses of Parliament will result in the privatisation of the Health Service. The workshop discussed the opposition to it and the importance of the campaign to stop the Bill. In addition the workshop also discussed the need for a focus on mental healthcare where devastating cuts and changes are taking place. It was agreed of the need urgently to involve health worker trade unionists in the broader campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill. The workshop agreed to support the upcoming public sector strikes and include case studies in campaigning leaflets.
The workshop discussed establishing an Ihoops working group on health, aiming to support the Defend the Whittington and wider HNS campaign. The idea of a petition which could be used to get GPs surgeries and dental practices to sign up against marketisation of the NHS was raised. Finally the workshop suggested a Defend Islington NHS conference in 2012 with a focus on participation by grassroots organisations.
Housing: why the cuts are breaking up communities
The Housing workshop agreed that council housing should, in principle, return to council control where it is more accountable and secure. There was concern that Government policy will drive up rents and that secure tenancy agreements will no longer be available for future tenants. There was also concern that former local authority housing which is transferred to arms length companies will, like Housing Associations become accountable to shareholders rather than tenants, leading to a poorer service for tenants in all areas.
If Homes for Islington keep control of housing stock, will they merge with other ALMOs to become large business concerns? Will they push for more part buy/part rent stock as other housing associations have, at the expense of less housing for rent in social housing? It was argued that if council housing is returned to local authority control that there will be an opportunity to have the service scrutinised by democratically elected councillors making it more accountable and transparent.
The workshop argued for full consultation and a ballet of all tenants on the issue who runs the local authority housing stock by 2014. Tenants should be given an opportunity to examine equally the case for local authority control and against it. The material provided should not be biased propaganda produced by wealthy ALMOS, as it has been on previous occasions when tenants have been asked to make decision. The decision over the original contract won by Homes for Islington and the contract for refurbishment of bathrooms and kitchens were both given as examples where tenants were asked to make decisions based on one-sided information.
Housing: Key Demands for the Council
1. To join with Ihoops and other groups to campaign for the return of local authority housing to Local Authority Control.
2. To organise a ballot of tenants by 2014 on the issue of which organisation should run local authority housing.
3. To ensure that the ballot process allow tenants to make an informed choice based on material which allows the case to be made equally by both sides.
Attacks on disability benefits and services and how to resist
The workshop discussed a number of important areas. At the moment the benefit system is undergoing major reform both locally and nationally. Over 1.3 million Incapacity Benefit claimants are being re-assessed. The assessment has three possible outcomes; ready for work – straight onto Job seekers Allowance, ready for support into work qualifying for Employment and Support Allowance, not ready to work placed onto Employment and Support Allowance. In the latter case a long term sick review may not take place again for eighteen months.
This affects thousands of people in Islington, currently 70% of claimants are assessed as ready to work – which affect Housing Benefit entitlement, Council tax levels of contribution and charges for services locally. Many people appeal their decisions and 40% of appeals by claimants are won. However the appeal process can have a major impact on mental and physical health during that time, sometimes requiring crisis intervention. It was agreed that an impact assessment of the reassessment of claimants was vital and believe this should be carried out by the council if it has not already been undertaken. In addition it was suggested that Islington Council funds the development of an independent advocate to support disabled residents through the assessment and appeal process. Figures show that 70% of claimants supported at assessments by informed advisors are placed in the group ready for support into work. The will also reduce the demand for local government services.
From available records 16% of Islington residents declared as being disabled whereas Islington Council (LBI) has approximately 5% of employees declared as disabled. Accurate and well informed records of the number of people declaring as disabled are crucial, since they can demonstrate a lack of funding from Central government related to specific need. They are also necessary to plan adequately for services locally such as Social Care.
Disability: Key Demands for the Council
1. An impact assessment of the Incapacity Benefit reassessments and appeal process.
2. The funding and development of an independent advisor and advocate to assist claimants in the assessment and appeals process.
3. The establishment of an accurate and well informed record of the number of people declaring as disabled within the borough.
4. A plan to address the gap between the low number of disabled people employed by the council both in house and through contractors and the much larger number of disabled people living in the borough.
One Million Climate Jobs: Solving the environmental and economic crisis
The Environment Workshop at the Islington People’s Assembly brought together representatives from IHOOPs, the Green Party, the Council’s Energy Team and Greenspace Team and the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group and others.
It was agreed that inefficient use of energy was a threat contributing to rising carbon emissions leading to irreversible climate change, increased fuel poverty and future energy efficiency. It was also agreed that tackling the inefficient use of energy was an opportunity for tackling high unemployment levels particularly amongst the young.
It was agreed that the most effective action in reducing carbon emissions in domestic properties, combating fuel poverty and reducing dependence on finite supplies of fossil fuels was the mass insulation of homes. It was agreed that the Coalition’s withdrawal of funding and reliance on the market to fund home energy efficiency, the Green Deal, was unlikely to improve homes fast enough to meet carbon targets. It was also unlikely to play a significant part in reducing fuel poverty, in fact due to the nature of the scheme could even make the problem worse and was unlikely to secure future energy security. Instead the workshop agreed we should engage with a programme of mass insulation of homes, initiated by the council.
Environment: Key Demands for the Council
1. The main aim of Council energy policy should be through mass insulation across the borough.
2. Islington Council should endorse the One Million Climate Jobs report produced by Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group.
3. The council should implement a pilot scheme to insulate every property in an area, across all housing types. Training for the relevant skills should be provided in local colleges. The project should draw in community groups, unions and young people. It should employ local residents. The effects of the project on carbon emissions, health, and unemployment and fuel poverty should be measured. (It was recognised that the Archway Low Carbon Zone went some way towards this area based approach but that the scheme suggested would be much more far reaching insulating every property in the area).
4. Begin to engage in a coalition of groups to campaign on this issue
Cuts, racism and homophobia: the fight for equality
The workshop discussed the way that the cuts will disproportionately affect those who are already disadvantaged. It was argued that deep economic crisis and the proposed austerity measures will create a climate in which racism increases. It was suggested that it is vital that anti-cuts activists and others understood the way that racism is integral to the narrative used to promote the cuts. The situation at Dale Farm, Essex with the proposed eviction of traveller Families is an example of this. The workshop agreed to support the Travellers defending their homes at Dale Farm. There was also concern about the activities of the far right in this climate. There was support for the establishment of an Islington Unite against Fascism group, and a group at London Met University.
Racism and Homophobia: Key Demands for the Council.
1. To provide a detailed comparative breakdown of the Council budget for 2010-11 and 2011-12 in order to identify the impact on black, ethnic and minority groups in the borough both as service users and staff employed by council services.
Arts and Leisure: why the cuts are no fun
The workshop raised concerns that cuts in arts were seen as more palatable than other “priority services”. The workshop argued that all cuts including those on the arts have a damaging impact on the community and all cuts are unacceptable. Access to music, theatre, arts is a right not a privilege. Cuts will mean that access to the arts will become more difficult for those on low incomes. The workshop suggested that art and culture can inform the anti-cuts movement. It was agreed that Ihoops would explore a monthly podcast in conjunction with 104.4 Residents FM to allow every campaign to be articulated across London. Ihoops would also explore an Islington anti-cuts X Factor to promote the talent the cuts have stopped funding.
Many people feel this is a defining moment in which the outcome of the battles over the austerity measures being proposed and imposed will shape the kind society we live in for generations to come. The Welfare State, which the majority rely on is about to be dismantled.
Ihoops has been formed to ensure that the battle to defend our public services and welfare state is successful. We recognise that this will require the greatest possible unity in campaigning and the involvement of the largest number of organisations and people, from community groups to trade unions to the many individuals whose voices are often not heard.
We believe that the best way to do this is for the council to refuse to implement a budget which makes cuts. We recognise this is most effective as part of a mass mobilisation and mass public support. We call on the council to work with others including Ihoops, trade unions and local people in building such a campaign to defend an alternative budget and defeat the Coalition government’s cuts. We recognise that there is disagreement between ourselves and the current position of the council on this issue. We will continue to campaign for and publicise a no cuts budget and work with others where we can to further this aim. We will also continue to campaign against all cuts in the borough.
We recognise the commitment of the council to a Fairness agenda as demonstrated through the Islington Fairness Commission. We also recognise that there are many opportunities to work with the council in opposing cuts and challenging the attack on the Welfare State. At the Assembly Councillor Catherine West specifically spoke about the campaign against Council Tax subsidy cuts and the importance of housing as a campaigning area. We want to ensure that we work together in such campaigns. The current battle to defend public sector pensions must be one such opportunity to work together to support the proposed strike action and campaign for decent pensions for all.
We also hope that the demands that have arisen from the People’s Assembly are areas where we can campaign together to defend and improve services and the Welfare State.