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What the Islington Fairness Commission should focus on

Richard Bunting, the Chairman of Islington Conservatives has agreed to be a Commissioner on the Council's Islington Fairness Commission. Here he outllines what it should focus on

As recently reported on Conservative Home, Islington Council has launched the Islington Fairness Commission. The commission supersedes the council’s Communities Review committee until April 2011. From the commission’s terms of reference, it aims “to set the long term strategy for Islington Council’s work for the years ahead”, with the outcome being a “plan for what to do to make Islington a fairer place to live and work…shape the corporate strategy, priorities and spending of Islington”.

Looking beyond the caricatures of the borough, the Georgian terraces and the trendy bars and cafés, Islington is the eighth most deprived borough in the country, with high levels of entrenched poverty. 50% of
the households live in social housing, yet the borough is also one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Polarisation of the very wealthy and the poorest is stark.

The commission’s first meeting focussed on establishing the evidence base and provided the transparency on what the council has been doing to alleviate poverty. It was evident that financial pressures and priorities are the drivers behind the commission that go way beyond the £7mln of cuts passed through the council this week in its emergency budget. Central government funding, directly or indirectly, is linked to dealing with the borough’s depravation. The £123.3 million a year is significantly higher per head of population than the national average, and represents 42% of the council’s budget.

Much of the evidence has already pointed to the number of residents without employment in the borough and the need to match skills to jobs. Of the 140,000 people who live in Islington and of working age, a third of the potential workforce is not in employment. This is despite there being 1.3 jobs for every person. The borough has more jobs than people to do the work.

It is though the intergenerational nature of poverty which is of real concern. Nearly half of the borough’s 40,000 children live in poverty, with nearly three quarters living in lone parent households. Only one in seven are living in working households. When examining school leavers, 95% of young people who are not in education, training or employment are from workless families. Although Islington’s secondary schools have shown improvement in the numbers achieving 5 GCSE’s grade A-C, the schools still feature at the bottom of the league tables in London.

It is clear that the commission should focus on examining the barriers for people getting into work. It should examine on more effective engage of community and voluntary sector organisations within the borough, often best placed on the ground, dealing with the poverty. In addition, it will need to examine in detail how funds are being used to alleviate poverty, assess which strategies and schemes have yielded results and which haven’t.

Well over 100 members of the public attended the commission’s first meeting at the town hall, with a great deal of community engagement in the process. When the commission reports next April, it will be interesting to assess the value of the commission’s work and examine the subsequent decisions the Council will make in addressing poverty in Islington.


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