2013 MP and councillor advice surgeries

Please find below details for drop-in advice surgeries run by Glenda Jackson MP and by your three councillors in Kilburn ward in Camden.

Glenda can help with a whole range of issues  – including benefits, NHS and immigration issues – for anyone who lives in the Hampstead & Kilburn constituency (which covers both Camden and Brent – if you’re not sure who your MP is, enter your postcode here).

As Camden councillors, Mike, Thomas and Maryam can help with issues relating to Camden services – housing, parking, rubbish collection/recycling, planning, licensing etc.

For both sets of surgeries, no appointment is necessary; just turn up when they are on.

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2013 Kilburn ward councillor surgery times

2013 council surgery

Camden proud to pay a living wage

This week is London Living Wage (LLW) week, which gives me the opportunity to promote the fantastic news that Camden, under a Labour administration (of course!) is now a LLW council.

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Camden flying the flag for the London Living Wage…(l to r) Cabinet Member Cllr Valerie Leach, Rhys Moore, Director of the Living Wage Foundation, council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward and deputy leader Cllr Pat Callaghan

In fact (and this shows up my tardiness in blogging about it) Camden was only the third council in the country to become nationally accredited LLW authorities. Now there are 19 in all – all of them Labour (of course!).

Under Labour, Camden has become a trailblazer in fair pay – something of which we should be rightly proud.

It’s worth noting in the margins that there isn’t a single Tory borough even pursuing accreditation and, even though Boris Johnson, lauds the London Living Wage, the GLA isn’t accredited.

Yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband launched a new three point plan to promote fair pay across Britain through the Living Wage. He highlighted Labour councils, including Camden, that have already taken a lead on this.

Ed Miliband said: “There are almost five million people in Britain who aren’t earning the living wage; people who got up early this morning, spent hours getting to work – who are putting in all the effort they can – but who often don’t get paid enough to look after their families, to heat their homes, feed their kids, care for elderly relatives and plan for the future … Britain needs a government that will work with the best of British business to build greater prosperity and share it more fairly. That is what One Nation is about. The living wage is an important part of helping to make that happen. It is an idea whose time has come.”

He said that we had a lot to learn from councils like Camden who not only pay staff the London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour but are making fair pay an integral part of the decision making process in tendering contracts to external employers.

The London Living Wage is a campaign run by Citizens UK and the Living Wage Foundation. It is an hourly rate set independently and calculated according to the cost of living in the UK.

Labour Camden leader Cllr Sarah Hayward said: “We are proud to be one of the first boroughs in London to not only commit to introducing the London Living Wage but to act on that commitment, and I am proud that it is Labour councils leading the way on this issue. In times like these, paying a living wage is even more important as the Tory-led government cuts £18 billion from welfare benefits, including those paid to people in work.”

It is becoming almost passé to repeat, but there is a real crisis of affordability facing many of us in NW6 (indeed, across north London). Nowhere is this more acutely felt – nor indeed should a progressive society feel a responsibility for – than those on the lowest wages. The LLW is an obvious way to redress the balance in the capital an begin to address the high cost of living in a world city.

The alternative? Living in a hollowed out city (think Paris on steroids) with few of the vibrant, mixed communities like Kilburn and West Hampstead.

I don’t think LLW is a cure-all – the ever-thoughtful Hopi Sen has a very interesting take on the practicalities of implementing a living wage LLW on his blog. But it’s a good start.

NW6 tops housing benefit claimant table

A while ago I blogged here on the disproportionate impact of housing benefit reform on the north-west of Camden – which highlighted the importance of it (specifically Local Housing Allowance or LHA) to people as an in-work benefit, especially in areas like our where private rents are sky-high.

Camden has recently produced an really interesting briefing pack looking at the impact of welfare reform on the borough, and how we’re trying to attenuate the worst excesses on our most vulnerable residents. A link to it is here – and I really recommend reading it; it doesn’t pull punches but does give a real idea of the huge cumulative impact of all the welfare changes in Camden.

One slide in particular forced home the impact in Kilburn and West Hampstead – a map of LHA claimants:

Not only do the three wards of Kilburn, West Hampstead and Fortune Green have more claimants than other wards, those numbers are growing at a disproportionate rate.

This is against a backdrop of a decrease in both the total number of housing benefit claims and new claims since the introduction of the LHA cap last April. In 2010-11 there were 11 28,842 claims and 616 new claims per month on average; in August 2012 this had dropped to 28,116 claims and 475 new claims.

Juxtapose this with evidence from a relatively new dataset which shows that private rents in Camden have been rising. In June 2011 the market median weekly rent for a two-bed flat was £399.92; this June it was £444.92 – an increase of more than a ten percent at a time when wages are stagnant and benefits being cut.

(So much, then, for the Government’s theory that rents would adjust downwards to reflect limits on benefit payments. It’s like the Tories don’t really understand how a market like private rentals works, which would be laughably ironic, were it not forcing people out of their homes.)

It’s hard to tell whether the increase is solely a result of migration from other areas, or because of the existing high numbers of existing LHA claimants (as per my earlier blog). In all probability, its a mixture of both. But the human cost of these welfare cuts is dramatic, nonetheless. Here’s just one example, from the Camden briefing:

H is a single parent with three children and is self-employed. She has rent of £375 to which the cap of £340 has applied since February 2012. She therefore has a shortfall of £35 which she has been meeting out of her own income. This cancels out part of the increase in income that she secured on entering work and means that the family is struggling. However, the client has decided not to move but to continue meeting the shortfall out of her other income. She is hoping to be able to continue working as if she was to become unemployed she would not be able to cover the shortfall from out-of-work benefit income.

‘H’s story does underline how – contrary to the tabloid and Tory stereotype of the feckless poor – those being hit by these housing benefit cuts are trying to work their way out of poverty.

It’s the same with the recent announcement saying that under-25s might not be eligible for housing benefit. If you’re under-25 and claiming housing benefit, there’s a fairly high probability you’ve not had an easy life – perhaps you’re a care leaver, or fleeing domestic violence, rather than seeking an easy way out of having to live a “responsible” life.

Good luck to ‘H’ – but it’s hard to see how she and her family are meant to survive in this brave new world without being forced out of their home.

 

 

 

Twenty’s plenty for Kilburn

Labour Camden is seeking to introduce a 20mph speed limit across the whole of the borough in a bid to cut accidents on our busy roads.

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Just a small reduction in speeds prevents accidents and saves lives. Department of Transport statistics show that for every one mile per hour reduction in speed, accidents drop by six percent on average.

The bold move to be the first London council to introduce borough-wide speed limit has already attracted the attention of BBC London.

The new limit, if agreed, would apply to all borough roads under Camden control. Camden would also initiate discussions with Transport for London regarding other roads, including the ‘red routes’ that they control. There will be an opportunity to discuss this – and other transport issues at a public meeting with the Deputy Mayor for transport on Wednesday.

Given some of the tragic road accidents we’ve seen on our roads locally, especially on Kilburn High Road, this has to be a welcome move. A borough-wide rule would also ensure a more consistent environment for drivers who would no longer have to move confusingly between borough roads with different speed limits.

Generating a culture of safer driving on all our roads will make them safer for pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers – and could also pay dividends for everyone’s health in terms of improved air quality.

Cllr Phil Jones, cabinet member for sustainability, says: “We want to give greater confidence to the pedestrians and cyclists who use our roads and encourage more people to switch to sustainable forms of transport.”

“This is not about introducing more road humps,” he stresses, “it is about beginning to change the culture on our roads in favour of lower speeds. We will continue with small local schemes where they are supported by residents, but this is a more comprehensive proposal that would be implemented without major traffic calming measures.”

A report will be considered by the council’s Cabinet in December and, if agreed, will be followed by a public consultation on the plans.

Camden backs new local campaign against legal loan sharks

An energetic new campaign spanning Camden and Brent has organised a key event tomorrow (Wednesday) night in Wembley to highlight growing concern about legal loansharks.

Many, like me, are worried about the proliferation of payday lenders in our area and the consequences for residents who, through dire economic circumstances and the impact of welfare reform, may find themselves forced to take out loans with eye-watering interest rates from these legal loansharks.

The event is free to attend – so do come along; more information and registration can be found here. It kicks off at19:15 at Chalkhill Community Centre, 113 Chalkhill Road, Wembley, HA9 9FX

It’s going to be a great evening, with the leaders of both Brent and Camden councils (Cllr Sarah Hayward and Cllr Mo Butt) and the doyenne of legal loanshark campaigners, Stella Creasy MP. Hats off to Kilburn resident and Labour activist Mat Lawrence for being the driving force behind the campaign and the event.

I’ve seen the way these shops have sprouted up in Kilburn (I’ve been told we have one of the highest densities of payday lenders in the country), so I used the occasion of last week’s Full Council meeting to table an oral question, asking for Camden to support the campaign and do more to tackle the problem.

Sadly, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to ask the question.  But the answers have now been given, and I’m pleased to say that Labour-run Camden is fully behind efforts to tackle the problem.  There’s lots local authorities can do to support residents and help campaign against payday lenders and their license to ruin lives of the vulnerable.  This is a good start.

I’ve pasted in my question and the reply below.  It’s long, but worth reading through…

 

QUESTION 5 (Oral)

TO THE: LEADER OF THE COUNCIL
BY: COUNCILLOR MIKE KATZ

Lack of access to affordable credit is socially and economically damaging: the proliferation of payday loan providers throughout the borough and in my ward in Kilburn risks creating huge social problems. Unaffordable credit can force residents into a downward spiral of indebtedness, with huge impacts on them and their family, from being unable to pay rent, council tax and other bills to keeping homes warm and being able to afford a healthy diet. A new local group, CABALS (Camden and Brent against legal loan sharks) is joining other efforts up and down the country campaigning to end „legal loan sharking‟. Will the Leader endorse the efforts of this campaign to bring attention to the dangers of legal loan sharks, and help promote credit unions as an affordable alternative for Camden residents?

REPLY:
No one is more aware than this current administration of the economic plight of many of our residents, the challenges of financial inclusion and the need to provide accessible expert advice to our most vulnerable residents across the whole borough.

Irresponsible lending can cause debts to become unmanageable: some loan and credit companies are charging annual interest rates equivalent to over 2500%. Borrowing at these rates repeatedly tips customers into inescapable cycles of debt and poverty. High debt repayments are linked to rent, council tax and utility arrears, constraints on job seeking behaviour, poor diets, cold homes, and mental and physical health problems. This is being increasingly termed legal loan sharking, a national scandal which we will proudly lobby to be stopped.

The government has committed to regulate excessive interest rates on credit and store cards, and yet is paradoxically allowing the much more pernicious practice of legal loan sharking to continue. Government initiatives to date have not worked. The only way to stamp out legal loan sharking is by establishing a lending rate cap to cover all forms of consumer credit in order to reduce prices in areas of the market that are not price competitive. Importantly, a cap needs to be accompanied by increasing access to more affordable, responsible sources of credit.

I have a long track record of campaigning on this issue, not least objecting to Mayor Boris Johnson‟s shameful decision to take advertising revenue from Wonga in Christmas 2010; the key time of year when many families are feeling the pressure of debt. I wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue and did not receive a reply.

I will endorse Camden and Barnet Against Legal Loan Sharks and I will be writing again to the Prime Minister to explain why the Council is supporting this campaign, asking him to cap the total cost of credit and strengthen fairer financial alternatives to legal loan sharking.

We are also investigating what powers the Council has to prevent the further spread of legal loan sharking.
The Council has already made a significant statement in addressing these issues through a range of interventions:

  • Through its £1m per annum Equalities and Cohesion Fund, the Council is investing in a range of projects designed to promote awareness and financial confidence, be it advice and guidance services or community outreach to prevent finance and debt issues before they start.
  • Through this funding we have also made a commitment to promoting accessible financial products for Camden residents through our on-going financial and organisational support for the Camden Plus Credit Union based in Kentish Town.
  • The Camden Advice Partnership, a partnership of local voluntary and community sector organisations and council provision that is working together to meet the advice needs of residents in Camden and achieve social outcomes around that increase the awareness of residents‟ rights and entitlements, increase the awareness of services on offer, improve confidence and improve personal finances. The annual figure that the Council are investing in CAP is £1.133m.
  • The recently launched Equality Taskforce will use evidence-based research and Council resources to tackle inequality in Camden.
  • A key objective in the Camden Plan is to develop new solutions with partners to reduce inequality.

 

 

 

 

Regenerating the High Road

Local MP Glenda Jackson is hosting a meeting for Kilburn residents and business on 29 August to discuss how we can make the High Road a better place to work and live.

We’re fortunate to be joined by the leaders of both Camden and Brent councils (Cllr Sarah Hayward and Cllr Mo Butt), so there’ll be a the opportunity to look at all the issues affecting Kilburn and the High Road in the round.

 

Victory in Labour’s campaign on school places

** NW6 primary school campaign update **

Last night Camden’s Cabinet agreed to proceed with plans to address the excessive demand for primary school places in NW6 which has been the focus of campaign by Labour councillors and activists for a number of months.

This represents a real victory for the campaign and for local parents.

Thomas, Mike & Maryam went to Camden Town Hall to present Labour’s petition on school places to the Cabinet

I and my ward colleagues Maryam and Thomas presented a petition to the Cabinet last night containing more than 450 names underlining the demand for primary places and the need for a new school west of the Finchley Road.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the figures and this campaign.  As of last night, I was told that there still 32 Camden children without a school place; 31 lived west of the Finchley Road.

The plan is to expand the Outstanding Ofsted-rated Kingsgate community primary school in Kilburn (currently a two-form entry school) to create a further two forms of entry on a site in Liddell Road, West Hampstead.  Eventually this will create 420 much-needed new school places in NW6.

This may seem like an unusual appraoch, but new legislation passed by the Tory-Lib Dem government has made it impossible for councils to build their own community schools. The only new schools can be academies (which require an external sponsor) or free schools (which are set up outside the state system).

There’s still many issues which need resolving – I met owners of one of the businesses currently on the Liddell Road site  at the meeting last night; clearly they’re concerned about their future and we have to, as a council, do what we can to support them.  There’s going to be plenty of consultation ahead, for businesses and other local people to have their say about the plans.

I know some concerns have been raised about the distance between Kingsgate and Liddell Road.  But when I spoke to the excellent head of the school, Liz Hayward, on Monday, she didn’t raise it as a concern.  I think the school is excited about spreading what makes it outstanding; and feel a responsibility as a community school to help out local families.

So many thanks to them, and to eeveryone who has signed our petition, tweeted about our campaign and generally supported the cause.  Together, we’ve helped ensure that the north-west of the borough gets the attention it needs from the Town Hall to address an issue which affects the lives of hundreds of families in NW6.

 

 

 

Great news for Labour’s NW6 school campaign – victory in sight!

** NW6 primary school campaign update **

Camden’s Cabinet is set to consider a proposal at its meeting next week to create 420 new primary school places west of the Finchley Road.

The move comes in response to Labour’s camapign and petition – featured heavily on this blog – to highlight the real problem with a dearth of primary school places to match growing demand in NW6.

The plans being considered next week are to extend the Ofsted-rated outstanding community primary Kingsgate school onto the Liddell Road site that has previously been associated with a new school site.  This extension would be a two-form entry school.

New legislation passed by the Tory-Lib Dem government has made it impossible for councils to build their own community schools.  The only new schools can be academies (which require an external sponsor) or free schools (which are set up outside the state system).

This is great news for children like Isabel Gosling, as featured on the front page of the current Ham & High, and the many others who are still without a primary school place, or are having to travel well outside their postcode to the only schools where places are available.

I’ll be pushing the Cabinet to back this proposal next week – and to get on with the job of building a new primary school for NW6.

 

Meet Isabel – why we need a new primary school in NW6

** NW6 primary school campaign update **

The Ham & High splashed its front page this morning with a heart-wrenching story about a young family who haven’t got a school place for their daughter who is due to start primary school in September.

This is despite having applied to half a dozen Camden schools and a couple in next-door Westminster.

Now the case of Isabel Gosling is extreme, by anyone’s standards.  But it only goes to underline how absolutely dire the need for additional school places – heck, a new school – is west of the Finchley Road.

For an idea about how serious the problem is, see the latest blog on the numbers of children without a primary school place in NW6 – there’s no other part of Camden where demand so outsrips capacity.

Sadly, it’s not just as simple as Camden agreeing about the need and deciding to build a new school.  Legislation brought in by the Coalition Government prevents Local Education Authorities – even good ones, like Camden – from building a new community school.

If you’re a  company and want to sponsor an academy or a group of parents and choose to set up a free school, that’s fine.  If you’re a group of politicians, elected to ensure demand for public services in the community is met, well, that’s just tough.  In truth, it’s Government dogma which is tying the council’s hands here.

This isn’t an argument about whether free schools or academies are good, or bad, or anything inbetween.  It’s about the frustration of having to find ways around legislation which is designed to stop councils doing what they are meant to do.

Who have thought that Tories would introduce more red tape to stop people just “getting on with things”.

Nor could you make up the brass neck of a Lib Dem councillor who – having spent the past year or more trying to set up a school in Belsize – accuses Camden of dither.  Especially as his party ran the council two years ago and – according to the Cabinet Member for schools at the time, didn’t identify a site in NW6 for a school.

You might laugh about the irony, until you read about Isabel.

So please support our campaign, by signing Labour’s petition.

 

NW6 renters will feel brunt of benefit cuts

David Cameron’s suggestion in today’s Mail on Sunday that people under the age of 25 could lose the right to housing benefit, as part of moves to cut the welfare bill, has prompted me to write a post on the impact of welfare cuts on NW6.

The reason is twofold.  First, recent figures from Camden show that the coalition Government’s welfare changes will have a huge impact in the north-west of the borough – bigger than many might have [originally?] thought.

Second, we know the area has a particularly young demographic (according the council’s place plan for West Hampstead, the area has a “significantly higher” proportion in the 20 -34 age group than the borough as a whole, making up approx 45% of the population).  So the chances are that the PM’s plans, were they enacted, would have an especially marked affect in West Hampstead and Kilburn.

When I looked at the data from Camden (see table, below), I was absolutely staggered by the estimated impact in NW6 – there are clearly more people in private housing and claiming housing benefit, relative to the rest of the borough, than one would expect in ‘leafy’ Fortune Green and West Hampstead (admittedly the picture in Kilburn is less of a surprise).

Kilburn, Fortune Green and West Hampstead are the top three wards (in that order) in the borough in terms of numbers of people claiming Housing Benefit  who are private tenants – 1,746 in total or 36% of the total across Camden.

This equates to more than a third of claimants in just three wards out of Camden’s total of 18 (as the pie-chart demonstrates).

An important factor here – and one that often gets missed from the debate about welfare cuts and the crude stereotype of a “benefit scrounger” that Government and the popular press alike so love to peddle – is that Housing Benefit is an in-work benefit.

You don’t have to be out of work to claim housing benefit.  Clearly, with high private rental costs in NW6, many more people than might have been thought claim housing benefit to help make ends meet and pay the rent.

The bulk of the changes to housing benefit and the introduction of the overall cap on benefits won’t come in until April 2013.  Given the high level of renters in this area, it’s these families that will be hurt the most by the cap and other changes.

It is difficult to see how many individuals and families are going to be able to cope with the changes – this is going to mean more child poverty, more people falling into debt and more homelessness.  It’s a stark picture and its equally clear that this Tory-Lib Dem government believes that it should not be supporting low income households in inner London.

We could end up seeing a number of families having to move with children’s education hugely disrupted as they are taken out of Camden schools.

The most cynical might even suggest it represents a sly attempt at the political re-engineering of swathes of central London.  Without doubt, these cuts will make it harder for ordinary, and in most cases, working, families and individuals to stay in NW6.

And if the Prime Minister does proceed with limiting HB to the over-25s, I suspect the impact on West Hampstead in particular will be quite considerable.

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