Jenny Jones roundtable meeting 24.11.11 Attendance Jenny Jones - Green party candidate for London Mayor Ariel Plotkin - Assistant to Jenny Jones, Green Party Candidate for London Mayor Chair: Lin Gillians – Interim Chief Executive, London Voluntary Service Council Mark Allan – Toynbee Hall Nancy Astley – Planning Aid for London Alison Blackwood – LVSC Geraldine Blake – Community Links Rory Edwards – Daycare Trust Gail Emerson – Citizens Advice Duncan Exley – One Society Phil Jew – Advcie UK, Action for Advocacy Maeve McGoldrick – Community Links Deirdre McGrath – London Civic Forum Alice Woudhuysen – Age UK London Advice services Concerns have been raised as more advice and advocacy service funding in London has gone from grants to contracts with a consequent emphasis on top- down specification of services to be delivered, whereas previously advice and advocacy organisations could focus on holistic problem-solving. Competitive procurement processes also favour large organisations at the expense of smaller organisations providing specialist or local knowledge. At the moment 40-50% of the problems brought to advice and advocacy organisations is the result of systemic failures in public services. However, because of contract service specifications this is not being fed back into public sector policy-making to address these issues. Legal aid cuts have also had a significant impact. For example, there is now no funding for face-to-face work with individuals around discrimination cases. The approaches to implementing national cuts have been very different across local authorities in London. For example cuts to the Citizens Advice Bureau’s services in Ealing have been relatively small but other boroughs have made much more dramatic cuts to advice services. In such cases better funded local Citizens Advice Bureaux are having to take on cases from other boroughs where cuts have been more extensive. There is a key role for the Mayor of London in developing a picture of what is happening to advice and advocacy services across London and co-ordinating this so that gaps are addressed. The London Debt Strategy Group, based at the Greater London Authority and chaired by Deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes, works in this way currently, but similar work needs to happen across all advice and advocacy services in the capital. This is particularly important at a time when the Government’s changes to welfare benefits are going to have a huge and disproportionate impact on the poorest Londoners. Tower Hamlets is beginning a project to make it the first ‘Financially Inclusive’ borough. Primary Care Trusts, local authorities, banks and voluntary and community sector organisations are working together across the borough to ensure everyone in the borough has access to financial services and products that help them to manage their money and the skills to use these. London should aim to become a ‘Financially Inclusive’ city. There is also concern that RBS and Lloyds are now charging customers to take money out of other banks’ cash machines. We know that financial well-being is least amongst the most vulnerable. For example 50% of people in debt have mental health problems and 55% of people with long-term illnesses are in debt. In London, debt is increasing amongst young people. The membership of the London Debt Strategy Group needs to be broadened. The Group needs to campaign and lobby for the Financial Inclusion Fund to be sustained in London and to bring organisations together so that resources can be targeted where they are most needed as public spending cuts bite and needs change. The aims of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) are two-fold: to provide people with advice to manage problems and to improve policy and practice. Currently there is little opportunity to engage with policy makers to achieve the latter. The CAB was also involved in the Future Jobs Fund using funding to encourage young people to volunteer. They have also successfully campaigned for school uniform grants to be increased in Hackney and Kensington & Chelsea, and are currently working on to improve wheelchair accessibility. The Mayor has a role in identifying good practice and encouraging local authorities to adopt it across London. The Mayor of London currently has a changing remit around four quite focussed areas. The Daycare Trust is concerned about the quality of advice parents are currently receiving around childcare. We already know that child poverty is a huge issue for London; one issue is the high cost of childcare in London, which prevents many parents or carers for children from working. The Mayor of London should address this issue. Children & young people’s services and youth crime In Newham the local authority has made massive cuts to the voluntary and community sector. The current Mayor has had an interest in young people and youth crime but needs to do more to ensure these issues are addressed well and more consistently by London’s local authorities. For example, there have been huge cuts to advice services in Newham but not in Tower Hamlets. Young people do not recognise borough boundaries and travel across boroughs all the time. Community Links’ services are currently being kept open through funding by a hedge fund and funding from banks is currently keeping their playgrounds open. The Mayor should play a role in leveraging in such money. [Jenny commented that although the current Mayor has had some success in leveraging in funding for community projects from the private sector there are ethical issues: there may be certain demands placed on organisations by their funders and some funders’ business practices may be adding to the problems that the projects that they fund (usually a tiny proportion of their overall profits) are aiming to address.] The Mayor could act as a neutral co-ordinator of such private sector funding into the VCS in London so reducing some of these conflicts of interests for, and undue influence upon, the sector. Section 106 funds have in the past been misspent by local authorities with money spent on projects that do not directly benefit the local communities affected by the large scale developments they were meant to address. The Mayor needs to provide a strong pan-London lead on where funding from the new Community Infrastructure Levy (which replaces section 106 funding) should be spent. The Mayor should also support community groups to use the new community ‘right to challenge’ across London. The Mayor should support more inter-generational work which supports understating between older and young people, particularly in light of the recent riots in London. Opening up schools to older people has proved successful in breaking down cultural differences. The current Mayor has prioritised young people but has ignored the needs of older people in London. One Society has looked at the impact of low pay on families. Current Government policy does not sufficiently acknowledge the impact that low pay has on making parenting more challenging. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has just published research showing that child poverty is not simply a result of parents not working but affects the children of parents that are in work also and this is increasing. Their research shows that child poverty costs the country billions of pounds in the long-term. One Society has identified low pay as being a particular issue amongst those working for outsourced public service providers. Jenny’s Green Party colleague, Darren Johnson, has done some excellent work on pay ratios in London. There should also be more research on the long-term full economic costs of outsourcing services to tax payers taking into account not just the price of service provision but the cost of the low pay of workers delivering these services, of any reduction in service quality and of loss of integration between services. The Mayor of London should commit to assessing the long-term impacts of cuts and support early interventions that save money in the long-term. For example, money spent on addressing the high costs of childcare in London would result in long-term savings on benefit payments and improved outcomes for children from the poorest families. There could be an economic statement within the London Plan or Economic Development Strategy committing to increased public spending on childcare to achieve long-term savings in the future. [Jenny stated that the Green party is committed to the London Living Wage and to be more active in its implementation than the current Mayor. They also support pay ratios of no higher than 10:1, which is aimed at reducing the pay awards of those at the top and also raising the earnings of workers at the bottom, so reducing inequality.] Health and health inequalities The current London Health Inequalities Strategy supports a minimum healthy income, which would apply to not just earnings, but to those reliant on benefit payments or pensions. The current Mayor has done little to support the implementation of this. [Jenny raised concerns that the current Mayor has done little to address air pollution, which research suggests causes 4,300 premature deaths across the capital. His failure to address targets and falsely influence monitoring station measurements will result in London having to pay hefty financial fines for breaking EU targets. Improving road safety is another issue that not only saves lives but can make financial savings as improvements in road safety reduce congestion. A similar financial case can be made for preventative children & young people’s services that make long-term savings, for example through reductions in childhood obesity or diabetes.] Planning Aid for London has identified a number of issues through its work of the huge inequalities faced by particular vulnerable communities in London. For example, its work with a charity to develop a Muslim cemetery in Redbridge has resulted in the finding that the children’s cemetery had become full many years before this was predicted. This suggested that there were higher than average infant mortality rates amongst the Muslim community in Redbridge. They have some evidence that this is because Muslim women are not accessing public services and not being given basic information and training around childbirth. More generally a number of their projects have shown different communities not accessing public services and a whole range of hidden topics that have not been well researched. Other examples are the number of faith organisations running homeless centres that are not registered and the lack of land available for use by faith groups to practice their religion in London. The Mayor should work with voluntary and community sector groups to gather statistics and research on issues they raise so that they can be acted upon at a much earlier stage than presently. The recent Examination in Public of the draft London Plan showed how difficult it is for small community groups to engage in the process. The Mayor of London should support community engagement in the development of the London Plan and champion community development approaches. There needs to be a specific contact for the VCS in City Hall. With the introduction of the localism approach this will be one way to ensure it does not result in widening inequalities in London, as it will enable gaps emerging for disadvantaged communities across the capital to be addressed at an earlier stage. There should be a statement of community involvement in the London Plan Planners often take the view that improving health through planning is simply a matter of ensuring there is sufficient health service provision. However, the Mayor should support a wider role in the London Plan that acknowledges the role of community development, community facilities, access to healthy food and activities and the provision of sufficient green space to improving the health of Londoners. [Jenny suggested that the localism agenda is opening up a Pandora’s Box for local authorities with many not having sufficient knowledge or expertise to act on the local issues for which they are now responsible.] The Mayor of London needs to also acknowledge the needs of older people and have a specific Older People’s Strategy, as the current Mayor has for young people. The Mayor of London should lobby national government to prevent the disproportionate impacts of the proposed national benefit cap in London. The recent riots in London have demonstrated that a number of young people in the capital are completely disengaged and disenfranchised. They see the example of the corporate world and think ‘they have got away with it, why shouldn’t we?’ We need to rebuild the trust and confidence of young people so that they can engage better in their communities and apply for jobs ‘on the other side’. Citizens Advice Bureaux have found that advice around housing issues is needed much more commonly in London than in the rest of the country. In fact housing is the third most common problem CABx address in London, while nationally the third most common advice issue is employment. This reflects the higher cost of housing in London. [Jenny suggested that the group should come up with three principle ideas that they should push each of the Mayoral election candidates to include in their manifestos. This work needed to be done soon, as manifestos were already being developed.] The Mayor of London should also support a greater role for advocacy in the Health Inequalities Strategy in light of the huge reforms in health and social care services currently underway. There should be a particular focus on the advocacy needs of BME communities. Actions agreed by group after roundtable Alison would circulate notes and key asks from the discussion for approval by those present. Once approved they would be sent to Ariel (Jenny’s assistant) and Tom Chance (Green party manifesto development). Subsequent meetings with the three remaining Mayoral candidates would be preceded by a short pre-meeting to discuss approach. The key asks developed from this meeting will be consulted upon more widely across London’s voluntary and community sector and a final set of asks confirmed and focussed on at the following Mayoral candidate roundtable meetings. Those present were asked to complete monitoring and evaluation forms which would be circulated electronically. Alison would invite all those present to the Ken Livingstone roundtable, the date and time of which had just been confirmed.
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