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Tooting Bec and Balham

Hector’s maiden speech

This speech was given at the full council meeting on 17 October 2018:

Mx Mayor, I call for this meeting to be adjourned for 30 seconds to reflect on the way Brexit is being tackled.

It was a pleasure and an honour to be elected by the people of Bedford ward in May, and I am exceptionally grateful for this opportunity to represent them. It is also an honour to follow in the footsteps of Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, and the incredible work she is doing to draw international attention to the Rohingya genocide.

When campaigning, Brexit was a subject that came up on the doorstep a lot, and so I propose this motion to reflect on the current approach to Brexit.

The referendum of 2016 was a momentous event. The last two years have been eventful, to say the least. We have an exit day: 29 March 2019. But before that, I think we should have a say on the final deal, and I personally believe that a People’s Vote is the best way to do this.

Why do I support this campaign? Simply because we all have new information. In the 2 years, 3 months and 24 days since the referendum we have been inundated with new information. It gushes out of news outlets like a burst dam, faster than even the former foreign secretary can think of enough cricket metaphors.

Everyone in the UK should be given an honorary degree in Brexit studies. It is overwhelming how much more we now know.

And it’s not just the quantity of the information, it’s the quality too. We’re not dealing with hypotheticals any more. The issues that have arisen during the negotiations are the real issues, the decisions made by businesses are real decisions, and the movement in the economy is real movement.

In light of all this new, high quality information, it is not just reasonable, but positively sensible to re-evaluate our collective decision. Re-evaluation does not necessarily mean reaching a different conclusion. It simply means looking at the choices again in the context of new evidence.

And we have new choices too! In 2016 it was just remain or leave, shortly we will know exactly what sort of deal or deals are on offer. Unfortunately, the referendum gave us no clue about how we all feel about the different ways of leaving. If leaving the EU is confirmed then everyone, leavers and remainers, deserve the right to express their preference for the type of exit we make.

A People’s Vote would not be disrespectful of the referendum. On the contrary, the referendum has been respected every day since it happened. We triggered Article 50, we had a general election, David Davis was even going to produce 58 impact reports, and even though he never got round to it, it’s the thought that counts.

Time and again we hear people say that the politicians just aren’t listening. A People’s Vote would be the very definition of listening. 20 councils including the GLA have already passed motions supporting a People’s Vote. Just this morning a Lib Dem, a Labour and a Tory walked into a bar, and asked for more time to hold a People’s Vote.

The campaign already has over 700,000 supporters, and a million followers on social media. Mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns. This campaign is already a young tree. The more of us who lend our voice, the more chance it has to grow into reality.

Ultimately, for democracy to work, people need information to work with. We have more information, better information, real information to work with now. A People’s Vote is the right thing to do and the democratic thing to do.

I am proud to serve as a councillor for Bedford ward, where our diverse community reflects the best of modern London. I’ll work hard to protect local jobs and businesses, and to protect the rights of our EU friends and neighbours.

Categories
Tooting Bec and Balham

Clare’s maiden speech during a debate on the standard of children’s services in Wandsworth

At this week’s full council meeting, both Clare and Hector gave their maiden speeches. See  below for the full text of Clare’s speech and a photo of her in action during the debate:

Thank you for allowing for me to make my maiden speech this evening.

I’ll begin, as is customary with a few words about Bedford ward, a ward name which confuses many, but which comprises parts of Tooting Bec and Balham. I would like to extend my thanks to residents of Bedford ward for voting for me in May, it is my great honour to represent the ward.  I would also like to note my thanks to Cllr Fleur Anderson and Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP. Since Rosena’s election to Bedford ward in 2014, she has gone on to become the Labour MP for Tooting. With such great work in the ward, they set the bar high for me for the next four years. I am also delighted to be joined at this election by my fellow new councillor, Hector Denfield meaning that for the first time since 1990, Bedford ward is represented by 3 Labour councillors.

In Bedford ward we are lucky to have the Common which sits at the heart of our community, a special place enjoyed by residents of all ages and backgrounds. The café in the middle of Tooting Common on a Saturday morning is representative of many of these residents, whether they have completed parkrun, are walking their dog, or just enjoying a cup of tea.  We are equally lucky to have Tooting Bec lido at the edges of the Common, the largest outdoor lido in the UK.

Locally, we have several excellent primary schools: Ravenstone, Rutherford, and St Anselm’s, who provide a high-standard of education for local children. However, many parents have shared with me their concerns about the funding of schools, and what this might mean for the future of their children’s’ education. My fear is that the great start these children are provided with in early life currently, may deteriorate in future as a result of funding cuts which are punishing the youngest members in our society.

Focusing on the subject of tonight’s motion, it is the early standard of care in a child’s life, which concerns me the most. My work in the education sector has shown me that it is those early years in a child’s life which are formative in their later development. In a borough such as Wandsworth, you would imagine that shouldn’t be a problem, however, the pinnacle of how Wandsworth operates as a borough is seen acutely through the lens of its children’s services. Councillors opposite often celebrate Wandsworth for being sound in its financial management, but to prevent its children’s services from sliding backwards to an inadequate rating, have dipped into the council’s reserves to the tune of £37 million. Even the best spin doctor could not portray that as sound financial management.

In my short time on the council and the Education and Children’s Services committee, I’m yet to see real conviction in the political leaders of this council. There is instead a refusal to set long-term targets which commit to closing the department’s funding deficit as soon as possible and putting an end to rewards for failure.

I want more than anyone for those services to be rated good or higher. I hope this is the case at the next full re-inspection, however doing so will only be achieved through robust forward planning, and not through the piecemeal approach we see from the political leaders of this council where accountability for these decisions ultimately rests.

I conclude by noting that as a councillor, I will be a representative for all residents. Bedford ward is a great place to live and during my time here I want to make it even better. I want to help empower residents to have their voices heard and ensure that all children growing up in my ward are given the best possible start in life.

 

 

 

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Tooting Bec and Balham Wandsworth

Universal Credit Roll Out Must Stop

The Universal Credit roll out has felt like a very slow Tsunami making its way towards Wandsworth. We’ve heard the warnings and with a growing sense of doom, we have seen the result of the switch to Universal Credit in other areas of the country. But the roll out has continued regardless.

Welfare reform on this scale could have had positive benefits with simplifying a complicated system of multiple benefits into one payment. However there are some structural flaws with the system that must be fixed now, before more people suffer because of an administrative change.

We’ve seen Food Bank use and homelessness increase elsewhere. The Trussell Trust – who run 400 foodbanks – have reported a 52% increase in use of the Foodbank in areas with Universal Credit compared to those where it hasn’t yet been rolled out. The charities Mind and Macmillan Cancer Care are amongst many who have raised major concerns about the impact of UC for people with disabilities.

Even the Work and Pensions secretary admits it isn’t working as reported in the Times today (6th October), ‘Ministers are becoming increasingly alarmed about the rollout of universal credit after Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed privately to colleagues that millions of families would lose £200 a month under the new system. Ms McVey told cabinet colleagues that half of lone parents and about two thirds of working-age couples with children would lose the equivalent of £2,400 a year.’

The problems are: the gap in payments of an average of 5 weeks at the start, compounded by the switch from fortnightly to monthly payments, having to be entirely online and needing IT support to do this, administrative problems and – here’s the real body blow – the resulting benefit is not enough to live on, especially for people with disabilities and their families.

Local voluntary organisations have been working together to lobby the council to be ready for the roll out. I have been going to the on-going meetings between the Job Centres, Wandsworth Council, South West London Law Centre, Foodbank, Citizens Advice Wandsworth, Advising Communities and local charities as a result. But getting the basic data has been a real problem – to measure and be able to prevent increasing debt and homelessness we have to know what the situation is to start with.

The move towards being entirely online for people on low incomes is very hard. The forms need IT literacy, residents living in Wandsworth temporary accommodation do not have broadband become Wandsworth Council (despite ‘temporary’ being usually for many months and sometime for years), they need a good level of English to use. The responsibility for following up on setting up the new account, making and attending appointments and getting in paperwork has changed to being the claimant’s responsibility. Many people have not had this early explained and are losing out. All of these can be resolved – but some claimants need a lot more support in the early stages.

In Wandsworth Food Bank use has increased since the introduction of Universal credit. More people are going to the Legal Advice Centres – the voluntary sector is picking up the pieces of poor policy and a refusal to stop and rethink. Here is the excellent annual report from the Wandsworth Foodbank with more background, stories of impact and recommendations.

An estimated 10% of people on Universal Credit need additional support with different parts of the process like help with IT, form filling and budgeting. But if at the end of the day the money is not enough this isn’t going to solve the fundamental problem of Universal Credit

The roll out of UC in Wandsworth will continue next year to families with more than two children, and this tidal wave will be sweeping across many families who will need extra support. The Council, Job Centres and voluntary organisations must work much more effectively to be able to see what the impact is and where more action needs to be taken.

Better yet, the Government should judge the success of UC by its impact, and make the changes needed – with no gap in payments, fixing the admin problems and reviewing the benefit amounts.

The National Audit Office’s report on UC found that it is not delivering on value for money and they won’t be able to measure whether it is increasing the number of people who are in work – the two key reasons for the switch.

There is more coming – as a new wave of people being ‘migrated’ to Universal Credit is coming, and from April 2019 will also include families with more than 2 children. Change is very urgent.

Its time to stop the roll out and fix the problems.

Sign the petition to Wandsworth Council here: https://www.change.org/p/wandsworth-council-act-now-to-support-local-people-at-risk-of-debt-and-homelessness

Read the Trussell Trust report here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/what-we-do/research-advocacy/universal-credit-and-foodbank-use/

Watch the video: https://labour.org.uk/issues/universalcredit/