Last night I attended the very successful launch of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission. The Commission will be chaired by Giles Fraser. You can read his hopes for the Commission here and more general information about the Commission here. Below is my speech to last night’s event.
Thank you for coming tonight to the launch of the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission. A special thank you to our commissioners and to our chair, Giles. I am delighted we have brought together such a wide range of individuals, all of whom have enormous expertise. I have high expectations for this commission and rightly so. This feels like a crucial moment in the progress towards a fairer society. There has been no better moment to reassess our responsibilities and contributions to each other, both as individuals and organisations. I believe the work of the Commission will play a critical role in shaping the future of Tower Hamlets – a future which must now be shaped without many of the certainties we grew up with.
Since the Second World War there has been a consensus that the role of the state is to provide a level playing field for all, no matter family wealth and background;
that the necessities of life included health provision, housing, education, benefits for those out of work, and pension provision; and that the responsibility for providing these rested with the state.
Here in Tower Hamlets we have felt the impact of this increasing investment:
Over the last ten years we have made impressive progress:
Our GCSE pass rate (five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths) has almost doubled since 2005/6 to 62.4, we are now amongst the best in London;
We are now providing the most affordable housing in the UK – in the last year alone we built almost 2,000 new affordable homes.
Our young people’s NEET rate has fallen,
Child poverty has also fallen;
We have reduced homelessness and overcrowding, and
Our employment rate is increasing.
My fear is now for the future of the borough – on many of the measures listed above we are already starting to stall.
I am increasingly alarmed at the severity and implications of Central Government’s cuts, which show no sign of slowing.
The implications of austerity for residents in boroughs like Tower Hamlets is literally to turn back time.
Our youth are the first generation to be poorer than their parents.
No longer can families have the expectation of increasing living standards.
The welfare state compact is being rewritten, and not for the better.
The consequences will be greater inequality, with all its accompanying ills.
Growing up in Tower Hamlets, I remember the poverty – the poor housing, the appalling working conditions and the resulting social problems.
I have watched the borough make huge strides in overcoming this past and now,
Just as we seemed to be overcoming them; just as our young people were able to grasp the opportunities available to them
These are being stripped away.
I do not want to see this borough moving back to the days of my childhood.
This is why, as Mayor, I feel a number of responsibilities.
I want to protect residents as best I can from the cold winds of austerity.
We’ve reintroduced the Educational Maintenance Allowance.
We’re the only borough to still provide free home care for the elderly.
We’ve ensured all staff are being paid the London Living Wage and we’re pushing this out to as many contracts as legally possible.
I am also delighted to announce today that following the announcement, earlier today, of the new London Living Wage Rate, we will be uprating our lowest paid staff to this new amount.
I know that many Fairness Commissions have come to the conclusion that the council should pay the Living Wage.
I’m afraid I’ve made your job more difficult by pre-empting that recommendation!
However the campaign for a living wage, shouldn’t end with the public sector.
Making the difference between poverty wages and a living wage, has cost the council a tiny fraction of its budget.
This is choice which I am sure private sector companies can afford to make.
However there are also difficult decisions to be made.
Some of you will be aware that I am in the news at the moment for wanting to sell a statue Henry Moore statue bequeathed to the borough but which has been in Yorkshire for the last 15 years.
Deciding between having to sell off a piece of art or protecting front line services, is one such appalling decision.
It is circumstances like this, facing a dedicated onslaught against all we have achieved and wish to achieve,
That we need a response which involves the entire borough: organisations from the public, private, third and faith sectors as well as residents.
This Commission must engage in a conversation with the partners in our borough, recognising the challenges we all face and drawing out the consensus, which I am sure can be reached.
Together the opportunities far outweigh the risks and challenges
It is a large task but an enormously exciting and rewarding one and I look forward to seeing the outcome of your engagement and deliberations.
Thank you again and good evening.