Reflecting on 2018
As 2018 draws to a close it is timely to reflect on what has happened this year and to look forward to 2019. We live in momentous times with Brexit just around the corner and local reorganisation on the horizon. And just before Xmas, with outrageous bad timing – the introduction of Universal Credit in Northampton. We have had two National reports on poverty and the impact of poverty, one from the UN and one from the Joseph Rowntree Trust.
It is sad, but true, that on every indices of well- being; rough sleeping, homelessness, in work poverty, mental ill health in the child population and in the adult population, air quality in the town, serious crime, hate crime, domestic abuse, the use of food banks, the stats are all going the wrong way. Homelessness nationally and in the town is horrendous with 275 families in Northampton living in temporary or emergency accommodation.
There is a national epidemic in domestic abuse with 2.5 women a week being murdered by someone close to them. Life expectancy, after having risen in the years 1997 to 2010, plateaued and is now falling. The gap between those not managing, those just about managing and those who are doing well is growing bigger and bigger. The result is clearly shown in mortality rates with people in disadvantaged areas dying, on average, ten years earlier than their more fortunate peers.
All these examples, which are a consequence of Conservative Government policies, are impacting even more in Northampton, where on nearly every count our figures are higher than the national average. This is true of air quality in the town. It is true of child poverty. It is true of crime. It is true on many counts. Can that be because in addition to a Conservative government we have a Conservative County Council and a Conservative Borough Council? We know the County has been “guilty of incompetence and arrogance”, that’s a quote from the Commissioners, and has badly let down the people of Northampton.
The result of that has been an increase in family breakdown and the most terrible numbers of children coming into care.
We know the Borough too has made a series of really poor decisions- the location of the bus station, the de-pedestrianisation of Abington Street, refusal to deal with idling cars, the failure of the social lettings agency, our policy on HiMOs, locking us into an expensive, long term, outsourced environmental contract, taking money out of the community pot and giving it to the Cabinet, the failure to regenerate the town centre, the vacant prime sites left derelict - I could go on. The failure to stand up for a Unitary Northampton.
Looking to 2019
We need to agree that we can do better. We need to identify our own resources, and we need to look at good practice elsewhere.
It is great to see communities in the town coming together to address their own issues, whether it is the Far Cotton HiMO Action Group or Northampton Rubbish. Whether it is the Friends of the Parks, the regular Semilong Litter Pick, the Ivy Road triangle group or the newly formed Residents Associations in Phippsville and Kingsley. These groups and others give me hope for 2019.
It is brilliant that the Chronicle and Echo and BBC Radio Northampton have taken up the challenge of what to do about the Town Centre. That gives me hope for 2019.
If we look at what other authorities have to teach us- we can look to Preston, Frome and Market Harborough who have all developed their own unique commercial selling points. If we want to learn from LAs with Invest to Earn strategies, we can look at Ashford, Luton, Manchester, Liverpool.
In terms of the amelioration of poverty we can look to Cambridge, Salford and Liverpool.
We need urgently to do three things.
We need to campaign to make our MPs, to make our Government reverse their decision on next years cuts to Local Government.
We need to sit down with our voluntary sector and our communities to really understand local needs and local strategies for support.
We need to follow the example of Liverpool, Cambridge, Salford and other authorities and develop an anti - poverty strategy.
In order to support that we need to:-
Invest to Earn. Invest in Services. Invest to Save our Communities from further blight. We need invest to prevent high end costs later down the line, when families and communities lose hope and resilience.
1. Liverpool City Council purchased the famous Cunard Building in 2012 for around £15m, including refurbishments. An independent valuation has estimated the Cunard is now worth £32m, more than double the price the council paid. It has generated a rental income of around £2m a year for the council, an ongoing source of capital that has been reinvested in the city’s vital services.
2. Ashford has a property portfolio that is making returns of between 8.8% and 12.6%
3. The City of Cambridge and the City of Salford launched their Anti-Poverty Strategies in 2017.
The Salford strategy quotes the words of Nelson Mandela in 2005:
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
“And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
4. Liverpool is the UK’s 2nd most destitute city and is busy preparing mitigations for the impact of Universal Credit that is pushing their people into poverty. They have set up the Mayoral Hardship Fund and a Citizens Support Scheme. And they are giving free bus passes to people on Universal Credit- so they can access food banks, baby banks and community support. They are organising a community response to support families in the localities.
At home- our voluntary sector needs to be seen as champions for our communities not arms of the local state. We need to be paying more attention to what they are saying and supporting Community Law, Care and Repair, the Domestic Abuse Services and all the other services our communities need.
Universal credit is pushing people into poverty leaving families in debt, in rent arrears and at the risk of becoming homeless.
Philip Alston, UN rapporteur says, “Changes to taxes and benefits have disproportionately affected the poor, women, children, BAME communities,, asylum seekers and people with disabilities.” “The closure of libraries, parks and youth clubs is damaging the social fabric of society.”
We can do better