Devolving power and fighting for equality

Devolving power to local government, to self defined groups of people and to individuals does not disempower local government. We need a bold manifesto that demonstrates that we trust the British people if we are to win the election, and we need to understand that changing how power works is the only way to make lasting progress on fighting inequality.

Equalities campaigners, feminists and anti racists have always understood this. If you want to deal with inequality, you need to give the power to make change to the people at the sharp end.

This is not an approach that will mean the dismantling of the whole of the public sector as we know it. The interim report of Labour’s Local Government Innovation Taskforce recognises the difference between transactional services that deal with volumes of similar cases and cases of multiple and complex needs, where a more relational approach is needed. The work programme is the well used example of a standardised set of national contracts that has failed in tackling complex barriers to work. Children’s centres are an example of a national programme, with national funding and objectives, where the children’s centres in Tower Hamlets with the best outcomes are the ones where parent and the local voluntary sector had the greatest involvement.

In his article yesterday Luke called on us not to spend another period in divisive debate about public sector reform. No doubt Ed Miliband will do all he can to listen and bring people with him, but no change is not an option. A future Labour government will not be able to stop or reverse all of the cuts we are now facing. Either we slice away at social care, the NHS, police services until they collapse, or we do things differently. Demographic change means that what we need from social care and the NHS is different – more older people, mainly baby boomers with high expectations of quality of life and autonomy.

It is not just that change is needed because the world around us is transforming –change is needed because what we have now is often not good enough. As Alison McGovern has set out, too often people lose dignity, rather than gaining it, when they encounter the state. If simple, transactional services are all you need – a standard operation, the ability to renew your parking permit – coming to meetings may seem like a waste of time. If you are long term unemployed, have complex health conditions, are the parent of a child with significant educational needs, live in poor quality, overcrowded social housing, you will already spend a lot of your time in contact with various parts of the national and local state, and the way you are treated will leave with less and less dignity and power over your own future. There are many examples of voluntary sector organisations that start from a belief in the agency of people and communities to transform – our task is to entrench this approach in core service delivery.

The way services work can entrench existing social inequalities.

Whilst the centralised welfare state was essential to the progress women have made since 1945, the way it functions reinforces gendered family roles. Localised, plural service provision driven by those using it could change that.

Back to work support run by and for users, including women, could see skills training routinely run with childcare on site, or social services that integrate respect for the voice and contribution of carers of vulnerable or disabled people with support for carers to work.

I loved my pledge cards, but a 1997 election “retail offer” is not enough to tackle the challenges we are facing, or to cut through the lack of trust people have in politics. We can and must do better.

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My Christmas reading

I’m about a year behind in my reading – I had a busy 2013 and am now getting round to reading some of the books I bought at the end of 2012.

This book has some compelling arguments for associative democracy as a means of democratising the economy and creating a more responsive welfare system.  I know that the way you do politics determines the change you can make, and, whilst this book leaves plenty of questions unanswered, it makes a strong case for services and businesses governed in a way that puts the people they are supposed to serve in charge.

Everything I have learnt in my decade in Tower Hamlets has taught me that power and resources need to be in the hands of people seeking to build their own future.

There are plenty of examples locally of people and organisations that changed the world for the better from the ground up.

Matchgirls, dockers, Labour leaders, suffragettes– their ghosts everywhere.

In Tower Hamlets, local government is never boring, and at its best it can achieve so much.

I ran a seminar on the East London Federation of Suffragettes last year,  and this year I’ll edit and publish my account of how east end women united to fight for the vote and for their families and communities before the 100th anniversary of the creation of the federation this summer.

This account  of how local elected politicians, council officers, parents, young people and school governors, backed by national government, transformed education in Tower Hamlets, is fascinating – I hope I can talk to enough people to give a locally rooted version of it.

The battle of Cable  street is well known, the story of fight against the National Front and BNP in east London in the later part of the 20th century has not been fully written.  How can we change that?

There are a number of organizations in Tower Hamlets that hold enormous expertise on how to support individuals and families to change their lives.  I won’t name them without their permission, but I hope to write up some of what I have learnt from them.

On this blog I will try to write as I learn, and I hope that if you’ve read this far you will be interested enough to comment, tell me where I’ve got it wrong, tell me what I should read and who I should talk to.  A huge number of extraordinary people have already made their contribution to creating a united east end.  It is for us to build our shared future.

Thank you – Forward

Huge thanks to all my friends and supporters for all the hard work over the past few weeks and months, and for the kind words since Saturday.

The result of the selection has been widely reported:

Round 1: Rachael Saunders 261, John Biggs 257, Helal Abbas 207, Sirajul Islam 26.

Round 2, after Abbas and Siraj eliminated and second preference votes redistributed): John Biggs 328, Rachael 319.

John Biggs was therefore selected as our mayoral candidate, and we will all now unite behind him to win back Tower Hamlets council for Labour in 2014.

I stood in this selection because I felt so strongly about what we need to do win for Labour in 2014 and move Tower Hamlets forward.  Now this stage is over I will do all I can to contribute to a Labour win, and will continue to fight for a politics that is open and transparent, that values the different contributions that people have to make to this great, diverse borough.

I hope to continue to serve as a councillor and to work as a part of a Labour team to bring hope to Tower Hamlets, through jobs, decent housing, cohesive neighbourhoods and strong public services.

A fourth Labour leader, Dennis Twomey, backs Rachael

Six Labour people have led Tower Hamlets council since we won back power in 1994.  Two of them are standing in this selection.  The other four are all backing me. 

Today I am able to announce the endorsement of Dennis Twomey.  His statement is below:

“I’m backing Rachael because I think she is far and away the best candidate, and because although I don’t support having Mayors, if we’re going to have one I want one who is going to be open and transparent and who will bring new thinking to the problems of Tower Hamlets”.  

The statements of Denise Jones, Michael Keith and Julia Mainwaring, the other three past council leaders backing me, are here:  

Tackling poverty, public health

handing in NHS petition

April 1st sees the implementation of changes in how the NHS operates, with GPs taking over commissioning and public health responsibilities coming to the local authority. 

Whilst Tory cuts to services are a real threat, there is hope for Tower Hamlets with our GPs committed to transparency  in decision making.  Practitioners and commissioners are working together to resist privatisation and fragmentation.  The NHS Pledge is our bottom line, and Sam Everington GP as the chair of the clinical commissioning group is signed up.   

As Mayor, I would put public health at the heart of everything the council does. 

Ill health is both a cause and a symptom of poverty.  With overcrowding, damp housing, and outrageous pollution levels we face real challenges, but there is so much we can do. 

We can break the cycle of poverty by tackling malnutrition in our schools.  Significant priority has already been given to childhood obesity, but the issues are wider, and we need to work with schools and health professionals to develop nutrition measures so we can develop objectives for improving the wellbeing of our children, to give them the best possible start.  “Can Do” community grants and health trainers are the start of local people and organisations leading change on healthy lifestyles. 

As Mayor I would work with colleagues to use public health impact assessments across the council, including in regeneration and planning. 

Air pollution is responsible for close to 9% of deaths in Tower Hamlets each year, and is at the root of a range of chronic conditions.  As a council we must get serious about tackling congestion and holding developers to account for the pollution caused by building works. 

Currently, we have a Tory Mayor Of London who dodges responsibility for tacking pollution, and an Independent Mayor of Tower Hamlets who is interested in short term gimmicks than in making real change on public health. 

I have brought GPs, health professionals, trade unions and campaigners together as Tower Hamlets Labour’s lead on health.  I know how to bring people together to get things done.  As Mayor, I would protect the NHS, and bring local people and organisations together to tackle the health inequalities that perpetuate poverty.

Easter hope for Tower Hamlets – welfare cuts

On this Easter Day I am glad to see a number of church leaders taking the opportunity to protest against the government brutal benefit cuts which will come into force tomorrow.  Whilst Easter is a time of hope and joy for Christians, today is also a day to stand with all those who won’t be able to pay the rent next month because of the government’s attacks on our community. 

Around 1,600 households will be affected by the Tory  benefits cap which comes into force tomorrow, and 2,861 families will be affected by the bedroom tax. 

We need a change of council leadership and a change of government so we can hold business to account, change the council’s skills and jobs brokerage provision and get people into work.  As Mayor I would introduce landlord licensing and push hard for agreement on Living Rents.  

As Labour’s mayoral candidate, I would lead a campaign exposing the reality of these cuts.  Tower Hamlets is about to see an increase in poverty, higher rent and council tax arrears, an increase in personal debt, increases in overcrowding as people move in together to avoid the bedroom tax, and forced relocation, as families can no longer afford the pay the high rents in Tower Hamlets. 

We can take action now.  We can build a Living Rent campaign.  We must organise as a party to give all the support we can to those of our neighbours affected – I am looking to build links with local organisations who could work with us to train Labour activists in welfare and debt advice.   The council has already contacted all those families most seriously affected, sign posting them to available support.   Unite the Union has some advice for those who can be affected here.   

These welfare cuts are brutal, and with his cuts to advice services the Independent Mayor isn’t helping.  We need change at the top to move Tower Hamlets forward.