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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Archive for September 2021

A Cruel and Unjust Cut

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Universal Credit doesn’t work.

Not only does it fail to protect people from severe financial difficulty, in many cases its complex bureaucracy and punitive sanctions regime actually forces them away from the job market altogether. Over the years a number of other local authorities and organisations such as the Economic and Social Research Council and Parliament’s own Work and Pensions Subcommittee have backed that conclusion up.

 

However, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant that more people than ever have relied on Universal Credit as a financial lifeline. The government’s own figures showed that the number of claimants doubled from 3 million in February 2020 to 6 million in May 2021. Despite this the government has all but confirmed that it will be cutting weekly Universal Credit payments by £20 at the beginning of October.

£20 a week might not sound like a lot to some people. But if it goes through, it will literally be the single biggest overnight cut to the benefits system in history. You have to go back to the reduction in housing benefit in 1988, or the 1931 cut to unemployment support during the Great Depression to find anything else that even comes close.

The consequences for some of our most financially vulnerable families will be nothing short of devastating. For those people, £20 a week has literally been the difference between eating and going hungry. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that more than 300,000 children will be forced into poverty, taking the total child poverty rate in the fifth-richest country in the world to a staggering 1 out of every 3. Neither will these grave repercussions be felt the same way across Britain. The impact of the cut will almost certainly be worse in more deprived areas, making a mockery of the government’s claims of “levelling up”.

The government would have you believe that anybody affected by the cut can just find a new job or work more hours, but this myth does not reflect the reality of poverty in Britain today. Almost 40% of those currently in receipt of Universal Credit are in work, meaning that they are relying on the benefit to supplement a wage that is not enough for them or their family to live on. Furthermore the “taper rate” of Universal Credit, or the amount of benefit that you lose the more you work, means that the financial gain for working an extra hour can sometimes be as low as £2.24. For many people, especially those looking after children, there will simply not be enough hours in the day to make up the difference.

 

But the fallout will spread far beyond the effects of the cut itself. It is becoming increasingly clear that this winter is likely to see an extraordinary squeeze in cost of living. As well as the reduction to Universal Credit, the government is also ploughing ahead with an increase in National Insurance Contributions that will hit young people and those on low incomes the hardest. Rising inflation and disruption to supply chains mean that the prices of basic necessities such as food and gas are going up as 2021 draws to a close. Many families are also likely to still be struggling with debt or other financial pressure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As households up and down the country face a perfect storm of higher costs and lower incomes, the government’s only response seems to be to throw more fuel onto the fire.

From the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I have said that our national mission must be to build back not only better, but fairer as well. If the government continues with an unprecedented and unjustifiable cut to Universal Credit, it will only confirm that they have learnt nothing from the past eighteen months. Where there should be more investment, more equality and more kindness, we are instead being given more austerity, more injustice, and more cruelty. The time has come, for the sake of our country’s future, to say that enough is enough.  
 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Tackling Antisocial Behaviour and Doing Our Part in Greater Manchester

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

As many of you know, Tameside Council is a member of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, and the other nine local authorities in our city region. The GMCA meets regularly to discuss matters of common interest, such as public transport, skills, housing, economic regeneration, waste management, environmental sustainability and planning permission.
 

In the latest meeting of the GMCA on 10th September we heard from the new Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), Stephen Watson, as he outlined his plans to make our city region’s police service better and more accountable to residents. These plans have been encapsulated into a number of public promises, including but not limited to, reducing waiting times for 999 and 101 calls, making sure every area in Greater Manchester has a dedicated neighbourhood policing team, taking the fight to organised crime, and building public trust and confidence.

I’ve been greatly encouraged by the start that our new Chief Constable has made, and I look forward to working closely with him in the future to make our city region safer. I’m particularly concerned about getting to grips with the rise in so-called “low level” crimes such as anti-social behaviour (ASB) in Tameside.

As always, it is impossible to ignore the impact of austerity. While council teams work closely with the police and communities to prevent and resolve issues of ASB in their area, a decade of cuts have meant that it’s estimated that local authorities would need at least £2.5 billion in additional funding over the next financial year just to maintain these services at the current level.

The impact in our communities has been stark. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act has shown that the GMP recorded almost four times more noise complaints in 2020-21 than in 2018-19, increasing from 1,058 to 4,396 over that time period. Since noise complaints are by far the most highly reported type of ASB, accounting for 1 in 3 cases and being a significant factor in many others, it is clear from this data that the blight of ASB is only getting more serious. This does not even cover more serious forms of ASB that may involve drugs or alcohol.

My view is clear. There is no such thing as “low level crime”, there is only crime. For those communities in Tameside who have been blighted by such incidents for far too long, I offer you my assurances that your concerns are being heard, and that a clear and swift reaction will soon be coming.

But the GMCA also takes an interest in events taking place beyond the borders of the city region. The crisis unfolding in Afghanistan has been shocking and saddening to us all. That’s why, alongside the other Leaders of the GMCA and the Mayor, I signed an official statement at the beginning of this month pledging us to do our part to help people leave that country and rebuild their lives here in the UK. Many of those Afghans now fleeing to our shores provided valuable help to the military during our two-decade long mission. Should they be forced to stay behind, there is a very real chance that not only they, but their families and friends too, would be subject to arrest, torture and execution.

Greater Manchester has a long and proud history as a safe haven for those fleeing prejudice and persecution, however it is clear that this must be a national effort. We urge the government to ensure that every part of the country takes a share of the responsibility for asylum and resettlement schemes, and that all placements are given appropriate funding to support the individuals and communities in which they are housed. Only in this way will we be able to discharge our moral duty to Afghanistan and its people.

Our work through the GMCA ensure that Tameside has a voice on the issues that matter to our residents, whether they’re taking place in our own communities or half a world away. As we begin to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, we’re putting in the work to ensure that we all go forward together.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


A New Chapter for Droylsden Library

Friday, 17 September 2021

Before I begin, I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our Olympic and Paralympic athletes for their successes in Tokyo.

I want to highlight especially the medal triumphs of those who were either born in or live in Tameside. These included Droylsden triathlete and former Fairfield School and Ashton Sixth Form pupil Georgia Taylor-Brown, who finished with a silver medal in the women’s triathlon and a gold in the mixed triathlon relay. Paisley-born but Stalybridge-based cyclist Jack Carlin also won silver in the men’s team sprint alongside Ryan Owens and Jason Kenny, and then took bronze in the individual team sprint. In the Paralympic Games, Aileen McGlynn from Mossley won silver in the women's B 1,000-metre time trial with partner Helen Scott, recording a personal best of 1:06.734.

Despite enduring incredibly difficult circumstances as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, these men and women have nevertheless done our borough and our country proud. I offer them our heartfelt congratulations and wish them every success for the future. 

Today was a landmark occasion for Droylsden as Councillor Leanne Feeley, the Executive Member for Lifelong Learning, Equalities, Culture and Heritage, led the official opening of the town’s new library within Guardsman Tony Downes House.

 

The original Droylsden Library served its community faithfully for over 84 years. But in recent times, it has become clear that what we need and expect from our libraries in 2021 is not the same as it was in 1937. In particular, the T-shape and three-floor configuration made it incredibly difficult to access for prams and wheelchairs. In recognition of this fact, the new Droyslden Library incorporates a huge variety of new facilities and amenities, such as fully disabled access throughout, modern computers and printers, free Wi-Fi, a community room, children’s area and spaces for study and work. There’s also a designated area for teenagers, a wide selection of large-print and audio books, and forward-facing displays to make searching for and finding books easier.

With this new library, I’m confident that we’re providing the residents of Droylsden with a service fit for the 21st century. Because just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, the importance of libraries runs far deeper than the books they offer. As important as that service is, libraries are also a place to go for learning, for shared community spaces and activities. They are a place to go for advice, a place to go to better yourself personally and professionally, and even a place to go to improve your health. Libraries truly are one of the great levellers of our society. And a time where the spectres of economic inequality and political division have never loomed larger, we need them now more than ever.

As we gathered to celebrate the libraries opening, we also took the chance to briefly pay tribute to those who were unable to be with us. That included fallen local hero, Guardsman Tony Downes, for whom the building the library is now located in was named after in recognition of his service and sacrifice to his country. We also paused to remember Kieran Quinn, who led Tameside Council from 2010 until his tragic and untimely death in 2017.  It was his vision and ambition for Droylsden that led to the construction of Guardsman Tony Downes House, and the eventual relocation of the new library into it. It’s therefore only right that the community space in the new Droylsden Library will be named The Kieran Quinn Room, enshrining his memory within the very walls of the building itself.

 

As we begin to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, we must remember that significant challenges still remain. Our priority over the next year and beyond is to rebuild better, fairer and greener, while never losing sight of the importance of ensuring that high-quality public services remain available for all. Not only did we open a new library today, we also started to open up a new chapter for Droylsden and Tameside. I’m excited to find out where it will lead us.
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


The Wrong Tax Increase for the Wrong Reasons

Friday, 10 September 2021

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister stood in the House of Commons and announced plans to increase taxes to fund NHS backlogs and reform adult social care. The vast majority of this money will come from an increase of 1.25% in national insurance contributions, raising around £36 billion in total over the next three years. Most of this will go to the NHS, with around £5.4 billion being allocated to social care. Of this £2.5 billion is expected to fund a cap on care costs, leaving only around £2.9 billion a year for overhauling and improving our adult social care sector.
 

Local leaders up and down the country, including here in Tameside, have been sounding the alarm for years regarding the critical state of social care. However, the Prime Minister’s announcements falls well short of what is needed. £2.9 billion might sound like a lot of money, but when you consider that almost £7.7 billion has been taken out of the care system since 2010 due to politically-driven austerity it is clear that the money on offer barely begins to cover the gap.

We have already seen the damage that this decade of neglect has wreaked upon the entire social care sector. Trade unions and care homes operators are warning of an unprecedented recruitment crisis due to low pay, insecure contracts and poor working conditions for staff. Unpaid carers are still taking on significant burdens, often at great financial or personal cost, with little to no support. Insufficient funding of our care system is also leading to situations where many people are both unable to pay for their own care and ineligible for financial support. These are issues that need resolving right here and now, but still the government remains silent.

But there is a deeper problem with how this inadequate amount of money has been raised as well. Since National Insurance is mostly paid by people of working age and their employers, those who are being asked to contribute the most in this tax rise are also the least likely to benefit from it. The non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that over 2/3 of the tax rise will be paid for by families under the age of 50. Those people who mainly get their income from investments, particularly property, are also likely to avoid much of the impact of this increase. We know that younger working people are already bearing of the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, ten years of austerity, and the rise in inequality in our society. Asking them to pay even more raises issues of basic generational fairness.

 

So what’s the alternative? Increasing income tax – which state and private pensions are subject to - instead of national insurance contributions would make the burden more equitable. But I still believe that any tax system is fairest when it requires those with the broadest shoulders to pay more. I agree with the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham that the time has come to look seriously at taxing wealth as much as work. Increasing capital gains tax – currently set at 18% - to the same level as income tax would raise £90 billion over five years from some of the wealthiest in our society. When combined with other income raised from property taxes or estate contributions, we would be able to create a comprehensive social care system, free at the point of use and available for all, that would provide peace of mind while asking the majority of people to pay far less than they are now.

After a decade of cuts, fixing our broken social care system is going to require us to ask fundamental questions about what kind of services we expect, and what we need to do to pay for them. The government’s actions this week do neither, and at best will only delay the inevitable reckoning. As always when it comes to austerity, it is the poorest and most vulnerable that will end up paying the price.

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


Upgrading Our Homes to Fight the Climate Crisis

Friday, 03 September 2021

I wrote in my blog last month that we are now at a critical point in the global fight against human-driven climate change. All the scientific research confirms that the actions we take over the next few decades will decide whether or not much of our planet will remain habitable for life as we know it.
 
When we talk about issues that are happening on a global scale, it can sometimes be all too easy to be overwhelmed by what needs to be done. Many people I’ve talked to are deeply concerned about climate change, but are sceptical that the actions of individuals, local authorities or even countries will be able to make a difference. Today I want to break down that myth, and talk about some things we could easily do right here and now in the North of England to take the fight to the climate crisis.

One of these focuses on that most crucial of issues, housing. The housing stock in Britain is the oldest in Europe, which often leads to it being cold, leaky and energy inefficient. As a result, no less than a quarter of our countries territorial carbon emissions can be linked directly to energy use in our buildings – electricity as well as gas, oil and other fuels for heat.

The government’s own energy efficiency targets, which call for Britain to become carbon neutral by 2050, requires as many homes as possible to reach Band C on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). The EPC is the nationally-recognised metric for grading the energy efficiency of homes, and provides a rating between A (most energy efficient) and G (least energy efficient). At the moment almost two-third of all the homes in the North, over 4 million in total, are below Band C in energy efficiency on this scale.

 
The only way to bring these homes up to an acceptable level, short of knocking them down and starting again, is to retrofit and upgrade them to be more energy efficient. This can mean a wide variety of things, but usually involves a combination of insulating lofts, filling in cavity walls, replacing old windows with airtight frames and double- or triple-glazing, and replacing old boilers with modern and efficient alternatives. Due to the sheer number of homes that need work, it is estimated that we will need to retrofit 269,175 homes a year in the North from now until 2035 to meet the government’s target. That’s 737.5 homes a day, 30.7 per hour, or 2 a minute.

That might sound like a big ask, and it is, but successfully retrofitting our aging housing stock would have other benefits that go far beyond energy efficiency. A building programme on this kind of scale requires skilled tradesmen and employees to carry it out. Decarbonising the North’s homes by 2035 could create as many as 77,000 direct jobs in the North alone, and 111,000 more jobs indirectly across the UK. The North also accounts for 33% of the total number of households in fuel poverty – those unable to afford proper heating in the winter – in England. The difficulty in keeping our homes warm is also responsible for a number of physical health conditions such as respiratory illnesses and rheumatism, and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Retrofitting homes would therefore result in a huge benefit for public health and personal comfort as well.

It’s for these reasons that the Northern Housing Consortium, representing more than 140 councils and housing associations in the North, has called upon the Chancellor to live up to his government’s promises by investing £3.8 billion in retrofitting our social housing, and a further £2.5 billion in Home Upgrade Grants for low-income private renters and owner-occupiers. In Tameside itself, we’re taking action to compel house builders to meet strict energy efficiency standards on new developments such as the Godley Green Garden Village, and working with local landlords to help them access the government’s Green Homes Grant.

 

Upgrading the North’s housing stock to be fit for purpose for the 21st century is an ambitious but deliverable way to strike a blow against the climate crisis. We have the technology and the knowhow to start it tomorrow. All that is missing is the funding and the political will. Let’s work together to get it done. 
 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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