First homelessness and now child poverty: the Labour council lurching from crisis to crisis

Newham Labour Corbyn
Steve Topple

A Labour council is under growing pressure after the latest research into child poverty revealed it has the third highest rate in England. And campaigners say the analysis, when coupled with other factors, shows the local authority’s “incompetence”.

The End Child Poverty Coalition’s latest research has placed the Labour-controlled Newham Borough Council in London third highest in England for the proportion of children living below the poverty line, at 43.21%. The coalition defines poverty as when a family’s median income is below 60% of the national average, after housing costs. And as The Newham Recorder reported, 36,780 Newham children live in poverty, the highest number in any London borough.

Statistically speaking

But the figures should not be viewed in isolation. Because in Newham, along with high child poverty figures:

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  • One in 25 people are recorded as homeless, the highest rate in England.
  • It has the highest percentage [45%, pdf, p2] of private rental homes in London.
  • The 2011 census said 25.2% [pdf, p6] of homes were overcrowded, the highest rate in London.
  • One in four people have debt problems, more than anywhere else in the country.
  • In 2015, 35.6% of working residents were low paid, the highest rate in London at the time.
  • Between October 2016 and September 2017, the unemployment rate was 6.2%, compared to 4.5% nationally. The rate was 9.4% for women, 5% higher than the national average.
  • Only 44.8% of adults were “physically active” in 2015, the lowest rate in England [pdf, p4].
  • The highest rates of tuberculosis in England were recorded between 2013 and 2015 [pdf, p4].

Also, according to Public Health England’s latest estimates [pdf, p4], compared to the rest of England, Newham has “significantly worse” rates of:

  • Children in low-income families.
  • Violent crime.
  • Obese Year Six children.
  • Adult smokers.
  • Diabetes and sexually transmitted infections.
  • Female life expectancy at birth and cardiovascular-related deaths in the under-75s.

The council says…

As The Newham Recorder reported, a council spokesperson pinned the blame for the quality of life in its borough on the Conservative government, saying it was trying:

to blunt the worst of this Conservative government’s approach.

They continued:

We are tackling poor housing conditions through our private rented sector licensing scheme, investing in our children through our free school meals scheme which gives children a nutritious meal and saves parents and carers an estimated £437 a year per child.

“Corrupt” and “incompetent”

But campaign group Focus E15 disagrees. The group started in 2012 when a group of 29 mothers were evicted from the hostel, Focus E15, and they were all eventually rehoused after pressuring the council through petitions and occupations. And it told The Canary:

Focus E15 campaigners have been speaking to Newham residents on our Saturday street stall for four years now, so sadly these shocking figures do not surprise us.

The housing crisis is affecting children who are constantly moving between schools, not attending school for weeks on end and having their education disrupted whilst their parents are forced into housing insecurity. Children are loosing friendships and connection to their families and this adversely effects their mental health. Over the last four years, our eyes have also been opened to the gross financial incompetence of Newham Labour Council, led by the corrupt Mayor Robin Wales.

A ‘rotten borough’?

As with many local councils, voter turnout in local elections is below the general election average. In the 2014 elections, Labour held on to a majority, winning all of Newham’s 60 seats but with a vote share [pdf, p9] of 24.5% of the total electorate [pdf, p272]; only 0.2% more than the Conservatives got in the 2015 general election.

And as Make Votes Matter asked of an MP elected in 2015 with 24.5% of the vote:

Does an MP elected with such a small share of the vote have a mandate to make decisions on behalf of the whole constituency?

The same could be said of Newham Labour. So with this in mind, and local elections taking place in May, Focus E15 said:

This is a Labour council wedded to debt servicing, cutting services, and carrying out social cleansing whilst leaving the three tower blocks on Carpenters Estate empty. Newham residents deserve so much better than this, and a change of council leadership is now desperately needed.

Whatever the result of May’s local elections, it is clear something is very wrong in Newham. The issues facing residents need to be addressed, and quickly.

This article was updated at 11am on Wednesday 7 January with some additional information about Focus E15.

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