Tower Hamlets Council has voted to condemn the Government for its failure to tackle child poverty, and is demanding that the Secretary of State for Education explains why ministers have failed children and young people. The motion highlights the impact of austerity on children since 2010, this year’s exams fiasco, the failure to provide Free School Meals during half-term, the damaging effect of welfare reforms on some of the most disadvantaged children in society, and the Tories threat to remove free travel for under 18s as part of a TfL deal.
In a motion debated by the Full Council on 18th November, Labour members of the council hit out at the Conservative Government for failing to tackle child poverty and criticised the Liberal Democrats for enabling austerity in coalition with the Tories in 2010.
Tower Hamlets Labour Group also warned that the council’s Tackling Poverty Work and other support schemes are under increasing threat unless the Government adequately funds the council. Tower Hamlets Council funds a wide range of tackling poverty measures, including providing a Council Tax Reduction Scheme with council tax reductions of up to and including 100% depending on circumstances (meaning the most disadvantaged don’t have to pay a single penny of council tax), of which nearly 32,000 households in the borough receive some level of council tax discount.
The council also funds holiday hunger programmes – with over 34,000 meals provided during the summer holidays and over 1,600 meals provided during October half-term – and provides universal FSM to all primary school pupils, going significantly beyond the Government-funded FSM programme which only funds FSM for some children;
Conservative Group Councillors Andrew Wood and Peter Golds abstained on the motion, as did Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrat Councillor Rabina Khan.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “As a Labour council we do everything in our power to protect our children and young people from the worst of austerity, investing in Tackling Poverty work and reducing council tax bills for the most disadvantaged, but all of our work is now at risk because of the Government’s failures.
“The Government’s attitude has been to leave people to sink or swim and it’s having a devastating impact, particularly on our children and young people who deserve so much better.”
Councillor Danny Hassell, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “Since 2010, Tory and Lib Dem austerity has really hurt our children and young people, with school funding cuts and devastating changes to welfare support. This situation has been made even worse this year, right at a time when children need support more than ever, with repeated Government failures on exam results, free school meals, testing capacity to keep schools running, and threats to cut Universal Credit.
“Now the Government’s failure to support local councils properly through Covid-19 threatens the very support programmes that are designed to fill in the gaps left by their actions and which provide vital support to children and families in our borough.”
- Tower Hamlets Council has had to make £200m in savings since 2010, as its budget has been cut by the Government and been squeezed by additional demand. The additional pressures that have now been experienced because of the pandemic means that the council will now have to save a further £30m by 2024.
- So far Tower Hamlets Council have distributed:
- 525 laptops for pupils eligible for FSM in year 10 (now year 11) to support them in this vital year
- Over 1,000 laptops to children with a social worker (including children in our care); with a further 1,000 to follow.
- Secured over 500 more laptops than originally allocated – holding the government to their promises and appealing against their initial number allocated.
- According to the House of Commons Library, school funding per pupil in Poplar & Limehouse has fallen by 12% since 2013/14, and fallen by 11.8% in Bethnal Green & Bow.
I know that COVID-19 has been tough on our young people. We're doing what we can to support them through this time @dannyhassell @MufeedahB @Dan_Bromley_N @AminaAliLabour @SufiaAlam1 @RNBlake pic.twitter.com/QgiNeer9kc
— Mayor John Biggs (@MayorJohnBiggs) November 24, 2020
The motion as agreed by full council:
The Government have failed our children and young people
Proposer: Cllr Danny Hassell
Seconder: Mayor John Biggs
This Council notes:
- The Government’s exams fiasco which saw a large number of teacher predictions for A-levels and GCSE exam results – particularly in more deprived areas – downgraded by an algorithm until the Government performed a U-turn and permitted teacher assessed grades to be used;
- The exams fiasco caused a huge amount of unnecessary uncertainty and upset for many young people across the country, as well as jeopardising their futures;
- The Government’s failure to continue its Free School Meals (FSM) programme throughout the October half-term holiday, despite the pandemic and the jobs crisis causing hardship for many families who were already struggling;
- That charities, individuals, community groups and local authorities – including Tower Hamlets – had to fill the gap left by the Government’s failure to continue FSM over the holiday;
- That children and young people have suffered more than most throughout the austerity programme introduced by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in 2010, through the rise in child poverty, cuts to youth services, cuts to school funding, failure to properly fund special needs education, cuts to council budgets, welfare reforms, the coalition’s decision to treble tuition fees despite the Lib Dem promise to abolish them, and more;
- That welfare reforms, including the Universal Credit rollout, the 5-week-wait, the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the Government’s plans to scrap the Universal Credit uplift meaning families will lose over £1,000, have all had a significant impact on children and young people;
- The Government’s failures on Covid-19 testing have left pupils out of school when they do not have symptoms but cannot access a test, worsening the attainment gap;
- That the Department for Education informed some schools last month that the number of laptops they were promised had been cut by 80% after changes to the allocation process;
- That the Government has failed to prepare and respond to the challenge of the Covid-19 situation in universities;
- The Government’s threat to remove free travel for under 18s as part of a TfL deal, which was rejected by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan;
- Tower Hamlets Council funds a wide range of tackling poverty measures, including providing a Council Tax Reduction Scheme with council tax reductions of up to and including 100% depending on circumstances (meaning the most disadvantaged don’t have to pay a single penny of council tax), of which nearly 32,000 households in the borough receive some level of council tax discount. The council also funds holiday hunger programmes and provides universal FSM to all primary school pupils, going significantly beyond the Government-funded FSM programme which only funds FSM for some children;
- That our Tackling Poverty work and other support schemes are under increasing threat unless the Government adequately funds the council.
This Council believes:
- That since 2010, austerity has significantly affected our children and young people, with child poverty on the increase;
- That the Government’s approach to supporting people during the pandemic – leaving families to sink or swim – is having a devastating impact;
- The Government has failed our children and young people.
This Council resolves:
- To condemn the Government for its failure to tackle child poverty;
- To ask the Mayor and Cabinet Member to write to every member of the council, setting out how Tower Hamlets Council is tackling poverty in the borough, supporting families, and how the council is working to seize every chance for every child or young person to be healthy, safe and successful;
- To demand that the Department for Education responds to the points raised in this motion, and to warn that Tower Hamlets Council’s Tackling Poverty work and other support schemes are under increasing threat unless the Government adequately funds the council;
- To continue to lobby the Government for proper funding for our schools, councils and youth services, and to continue to lobby against detrimental changes to the welfare safety net.