Speaking out against the Tories’ failed universal credit rollout and supporting local residents feeling the impact

Last night, Lambeth Council debated the rollout of universal credit, calling on the Conservative Government to listen to the examples from across the country on the flaws and failures of the rollout, and to pause the scheme until it has fixed the significant problems that are causing misery for too many residents. 

Thurlow Park councillor, Anna Birley, spoke in favour of Labour’s motion – standing up for residents impacted by benefits cuts and sanctions, calling for proper funding for local councils to provide support and a national safety net which doesn’t push people into poverty or harm. 

Her speech said:

“Tonight, I
want to talk about financial resilience.

“But first,
I’ll share a story about one of my residents. I bumped into her as she was
begging for food from a local corner shop. We talked about her situation and
she revealed that her benefits had been stopped as she had missed a couple of
appointments – originally because of a bereavement but when the sanctions meant
she couldn’t afford proper food, she could no longer take her medication on an
empty stomach so missed another meeting from ill health. After two sanctions,
she could no longer afford the bus fare either.

“I drove her
to her next appointments and after some fraught meetings, and support from
Lambeth’s Every Pound Counts and emergency support scheme, we got things back
on track. But the health impact and the trauma of the experience of having so
little she had to unscrew lightbulbs and stop eating will stay with her
forever.

“A benefits
system which forces claimants to wait up to 6 weeks for a payment, and which
has shown from its rollout so far to be flawed in its design and
implementation, will push more people into the same unacceptably difficult circumstances
that my resident experienced.

“For example,
81% of tenants on Universal Credit are currently in rent arrears compared to
38% of all Lambeth tenancies.

“And we
mustn’t lose sight of the fact that most people claim benefits precisely
because they are already in difficult personal circumstances. They have lost
their job, gotten sick, or broken up with a partner and had to move house.

“Those same
circumstances make dealing with bureaucracy more challenging. When the computer
says no, the fact that it stops a single payment of all the benefits rolled up
together can disrupt the only assistance people are getting.

“I’m really
proud of the support that Lambeth provides its residents who are struggling.
Our One Lambeth Advice service has supported over 12,000 residents – over half
of which already related to benefits issues. In the absence of a proper
national safety net, our discretionary housing payment scheme, council tax
support scheme and emergency support are some of the most generous in London –
helping residents with rent, white goods, food, fuel, council tax and
furniture.

“But in an
increasingly flawed national context, even this isn’t enough. 40,000 Lambeth
residents are likely to be affected by the rollout in our borough, and as the
Conservative Government continues to cut the council’s budget and close our Job
Centres, our ability to deliver the financial advice and support that we’re so
proud of to our affected residents becomes harder. The Government must take
urgent action to properly fund local councils to provide vital support and
pause the rollout until it has fixed the significant problems being experienced
across the country.”

The Labour motion is here: 

“Thank you Madame Mayor for the opportunity to speak about something I care deeply about.

I come from a family of teachers. My mother was a primary school teacher, my father is a university professor, my mother-in-law worked in SEN schools and my sister-in-law is also a primary school teacher.

And, after 10 years of resisting I also became a teacher.

All the signs had been there. I’ve worked as a camp leader, I was a Venture leader with the Woodcraft Folk and have also spent time lecturing at universities as well.

To me education is everything and while Lambeth Labour continues to support education Conservatives continue their ideological attacks against schools, students, parents, and trade unions; attacks that jeopardise all that we have achieved in Lambeth.

Following the Education Secretary’s humiliating climb down over Baseline Testing and the cancelling of the KS1 Spelling & Grammar test after it was published online widespread opposition led by Labour, supported by unions and others forced the SoS embarrassing retreat over acadamisation.

However, the Conservative Government’s White Paper continues to play a rigged game; one that threatens school budgets, teachers terms & conditions, that will remove parent governors and abolish QTS, and one that will continue to pressure schools to convert when the emphasise should be on delivering school and teacher improvements.

The fall in teacher numbers, teacher recruitment, and teacher retention, school budgets falling in real terms for the first time in 20 years will hold back the next generation of young people for years to come.

The Conservative Governments obsession with changing structures has done nothing to raise standards and simply creates anxiety in schools and the communities in which they work. Local communities will be damaged. It’s a power grab – simple – and it will ultimately make it harder for local authorities to effectively respond to local needs.

And, in Lambeth we will see this first hand.

These changes could dramatically impact the ability of schools in Lambeth to attract high quality teachers and school leaders and cause cuts in the number of teaching posts and teaching assistants.

As a former trade union rep I have seen the impact of Conservative education policy as teachers struggle with growing amounts of paper work, increased stress and an ever demanding set of expectations alongside reduced resource /support.

The proposed national funding formula for example will do nothing but further heighten the challenges facing Lambeth schools.

Lambeth is the 5th most deprived borough in London

• 34% of students are eligible for Free School Meals

• 47% have English as an additional language, and

• Almost 26% of students in Lambeth schools were identified as having a SEN

The ‘redistribution’ of funds is almost mean and will not adequately consider the actual needs of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and it’s reduction will threaten the provision we need in Lambeth.

In responding to the ill judged priorities Lambeth must remain value-driven. Values that come from equality of opportunity, equality of access to education, and equality of developing the potential of every child. But it’s also about the collective good – education benefits all areas of society.

Lambeth needs to work in partnership with schools and parents as they navigate these Conservative attacks and support the choices they make in setting their educational agenda – as this will allow us to remain at the core of the community.

As a council this will enable us to respond to local needs, to preserve our values and in doing so, secure the best possible outcomes for students in Lambeth.

I do not know a teacher that been teaching for 5 years or less that says they expect to make a long term career out of teaching and I have often wondered whether I made the right decision to become a teacher.

This Conservative Government is simply undermining /threatening all the achievements we have made here in Lambeth. According to Ofsted Lambeth has “nothing but good and outstanding secondary schools” whilst 90% of our primary schools are good or outstanding, which puts us in the top 10% of all boroughs nationally.

These hard fought wins come from the development of strong partnerships between schools and the local authority, which reflects the remarkable efforts of students, parents, head teachers, school staff, through trade union efforts, and Lambeth’s officers.

To repeat in order to maintain our success we must remain at the heart of our communities, therefore better able to respond to their needs, which in turn will able Lambeth to maintain the high standards we’ve achieved.

Ultimately, young people continue to face huge pressures. We need to keep the interests and educational well being of the child as our focus – to ensure a child centred approach is embedded through local community engagement.

So, we have set up our ‘protect Lambeth schools’ campaign. We have been lobbying Government about its education proposals and we have been talking and meeting with head teachers and parents about our response.

In ending, I’d also like to add that I’m a parent. I have two wonderful children, Zed and Juno. These Conservative changes breed doubt, which can only be to the detriment of our local communities and our children’s futures. We must work with schools and parents to make sure that they feel confident in the choices they make for their children and that they are confident in us and the education system, even with these Conservative attacks”.

END