A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Poverty in Hackney

Figures from the Joseph Rowntree trust show that whilst Labour is making some headway in reducing child poverty nationwide (though not hitting its own targets of a 25% reduction), something is going badly, badly wrong with that strategy here in London: http://www.jrf.org.uk/child-poverty/documents/London.doc

In Great Britain, child poverty fell by 16% (from 33% to 27% of children) from 1998/9 to 2004/5. In London, child poverty rose by 4% (from 39% to 41% of children)!

In Hackney 12 of the 19 wards have more than twice the national average children in families living on benefits. My own council ward, Chatham, has the second worst level in the borough:

King's Park 50.5%
Chatham 50.0%
Hoxton 49.9%
Victoria 49.8%
Wick 48.6%
Brownswood 46.6%
Haggerston 46.4%
Queensbridge 46.1%
De Beauvoir 45.3%
Hackney Downs 44.5%
Hackney Central 44.0%
Dalston 42.5%

We have to get this dealt with. Reducing poverty is what the Labour Party exists to do. That these levels of deprivation can exist in one of the richest cities in the world is a disgrace.

Why isn't this the priority for the third term rather than esoteric nonsense about "choice" and "public sector reform"?


Blogger kris said...

This is why the £50M on a swimming pool is such a wind-up. Geddit?

5:05 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger El Dave. said...

It's not the priority because it's damned difficult to do anything about quickly. Reducing poverty in Hackney doesn't play well in the seats Labour wants to keep.

Equally, choice is replacing it because Labour has to be seen to be doing something with public services. It's not enough just to let them run and allowing choice (and localisation) means you can blame someone else. Sorry if I'm being a bit centralist...

The question, though, is how this has been caused. While we can agree that choice is bad, we cannot say that past failings are based on future policies.

What policies have led to an increase in child poverty in London? Perhaps that questions should be phrased as "the system in place at the moment, unchecked, tends to make the poor poorer; what policies have failed to check that tendency"?

A variation on the MIG for pensioners (by which I mean minimum-income guarantee, and not a product of Mikoyan-Gereveyevich design bureau) for children would be a start.

5:11 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Kris, I do get it but unfortunately even if Clissold had not cost so much we are not allowed to spend the council's capital budget on making poor people less poor. And £50m would not even scratch the surface of poverty in Hackney - would be just over £1k one-off for each family on benefit.

5:15 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

One think that could be moved on quite quickly in Hackney is to tackle the levels of unemployment or employment in low wage/low skill jobs amongst the West African community, some of which must be down to race discrimination because they are a community which is very education focussed and yet there are highly qualified graduates from Ghanaian, Nigerian and Sierra Leonean backgrounds who are unemployed or stuck in dead end jobs in catering, hospitality, cleaning and taxi driving.

5:53 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger kris said...

Luke, I get the thng about the capital budget as well. Perhaps hackney labour could have thought of other, dare I say, more meaningful, capital expenditures that might have been more meaningful than the £50M and ticking monument to incompetence, ego and greed off Church Street.

Ohh, I can think of one! You sold off the Sea Cadets' building on Church Street and pulled the rug out from possibly the one activity aimed specifically at kids from working poor homes. What is that building used for now? St Martin's grads wanky "art"?!

7:20 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I agree with you about the Sea Cadets building (particularly as I'm the council rep on the London Reserve Forces & Cadets Assoc).

8:00 pm, August 10, 2006

Blogger El Tom said...

My god. I withdraw my comments on the last post. consider my words eaten.

1:20 am, August 11, 2006

Anonymous observer said...

I fail to see why, in your half-hearted effort to eliminate poverty, you have to be so bloody patronising towards the "West African community" who are "stuck in dead end jobs in catering, hospitality, cleaning and taxi driving". Of course there is racism (or "race discrimination" as you mildly put it).

However, the issue here is poverty and you should note that if those West Africans leave the so-called "dead end jobs in catering, hospitality, cleaning and taxi driving" - some other poor sods will fill those vacancies, won't they? The people might change but the poverty trap won't.

I don't know about mini-cab drivers, but catering, hospitality and cleaning (especially cleaning) are all essential jobs and should be valued and well-paid, not "dead end". A decent minimum wage (and support for employers to fulfil this requirement) is the only way to eliminate this sort of poverty (look at the Scandinavian models).

Your major failing on this issue is that you assume living on benefits must mean living in poverty. For many people, particularly disabled people - with chronic ill-health - being on long-term benefits is not a life-style choice but an inevitability. Paid employment is NOT an option (and, in my case, thanks to our crumbling National Health Service, never will be). The ONLY way to remove such people from poverty is to increase incapacity benefit SUBSTANTIALLY. However, no one, repeat, no one is going to take industrial action to increase such benefits and it is not exactly a vote puller, is it?

Within a moral and ethical society, poverty should be tackled and eliminated through a combination of opportunity/education AND adequate support/benefit entitlement (look at Scandinavian models again). It should happen here too but I just can't see it happening. Blair and ethical society just don't sit well in the same sentence, do they? (Moreover, no, nor does Cameron, but that is different issue).

You are right on one point: Clissold's "£50m would not even scratch the surface of poverty in Hackney. But as for the billions of pounds frittered away on armaments and defence systems that we will never use? That's another matter!

2:46 am, August 11, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


they may be essential jobs but they are not a good use of the skills of people with graduate and post-graduate qualifications, often in vocational subjects like civil engineering, who send CV after CV bit never get a job that matches their skills.

I'm sympathetic to your view on incapacity benefit etc. as I have a close family member who has had to be on this at times and disability living allowance at others.

If you go back through my earlier posts you will see I am actually a fan of the Scandinavian model of society in terms of income distribution, welfare state etc. I'd always assumed that was the goal Labour governments were working towards.

There isn't however a choice to be made between a more egalitarian society domestically and spending a sensible ammount on defence - all the Nordic countries, for their size, are pretty robust about defence - Sweden may not be in NATO but it has one of the largest arms industries in Europe - think Saab, Ericsson, Bofors etc. and actually puts its money where its mouth is in terms of sending well-equipped troops to do UN missions.

The one thing at the moment you can't accuse defence spending of is being un-used ...

9:53 am, August 11, 2006

Blogger kris said...

"I agree with you about the Sea Cadets building (particularly as I'm the council rep on the London Reserve Forces & Cadets Assoc)".

I'm intrigued: what ship or regiment were you attached to? and: -

"The one thing at the moment you can't accuse defence spending of is being un-used ..."

Why is it our guys budgets are cut and they are being asked to do more and more with less and less?

Don't tell me...the wrong pot of money?

7:03 pm, August 11, 2006

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

Perhaps both Hackney North and South CLPs should support a contemporary resolution on ending Child Poverty for the 2006 Annual Conference proposed by Cities of London and Westminster CLP . Go to:


We hope it will be adopted as one of the four Contemporary Resolutions supported by CLPs for debate.

10:04 am, August 12, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How ironic - when looking at what criteria you would use to choose the next party leader never once did you even talk about the elimination of poverty - which is what most of us joined the labour party as socialists to do - instead you just droned on and on about the irrelevant nonsense about suport for this action or that action which is somehow the demonstartion of ideological purity which you'd find acceptable.

Perhaps if more people like you on the right of the party sent a strong message to the leadership that we don't want to talk about "public service reform" and "choice" and wanted to talk about closing the wealth gap and tackling the diminishing levels of social mobility - then we wouldn't sit all day and wonder why many people of your ilk (not you of course!) joined a socialist party in the first place. Especially as whenever anyone has tried to ask why the leadership does go on about these sorts of things we're attacked as being "ideologues" or "dogmatic" - whereas it is the leadership going on and on about it are the very people who have done so much damage both to the labour party and to the public sector...

Keep talking about poverty and tackling it, keep talking about the lack of social mobility and stop beating all of us on the "left" of the party (left of where it is now) as the biggest enemies within.

I look forward to reading more of this sort of post in the future...

12:35 pm, August 12, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Kris, I represent the council not the local units, which are represented by their C.O.s.
On your other point, the MoD got quite a good settlement in the last CSR, the question is, is it reaching the frontline? I think they should have got more, but the Chancellor is not a great fan of the MoD as a spending department, though this may change now that one of his mates is Defence Secretary.

3:55 pm, August 12, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Peter, I've read your resolution, I agree with it, so I shall try to get it passed by the Hackney CLPs.

3:58 pm, August 12, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Anonymous, the reason you, me, Tony Blair and all the "Guardian 4" are in the same party is because we all agree about fighting poverty and inequality. I took it for granted the deputy leadership candidates care about this issue. The reason why we are on different wings of the Labour Party is that the left of the party seek to progress this issue at such speed that we would end up alienating the swing voters who decide elections and letting the Tories in, and combine it with a set of beliefs on foreign policy and a host of other issues which range from the stupid and misguided to the morally reprehensible. Some sections of the left of the party (not all) also fail to recognise the boundary between democratic and revolutionary politics, and believe organisations which profess to want political change through violent revolution, and are therefore in my view plain evil, are legitimate political allies (e.g. Ken Livingstone's relationship with the leading figures in what was the International Marxist Group, and Tony Benn's opposition to the expulsion of Militant and Socialist Organiser). If you lot weren't such a distraction of energy and effort we might have the kind of society by now that Sweden does (the Swedish Social Democrats having very sensibly told their left to **** off and form another party and let them get on with building the world's finest welfare state).

4:37 pm, August 12, 2006

Anonymous internationalist said...

That is an extraordinary view of the Swedish Social Democrats. I'm sure that I could get innumerable members of the left of that party to rebut it.

The Left Party is more post-communist than anything resembling the left of the UK Labour Party and the programme of the Social Democrats has tended to represent some level of compromise between the left and right of the party.

7:21 pm, August 12, 2006

Blogger Peter Gustavsson said...

Thanks for an interesting blog, Luke, but I think this discussion is going a bit out of hand.

As you mentioned earlier, Sweden is a non-alligned country. Swedes in general are very bothered about the foreign policy of Bush and Blair. The "war on terrorism" is a risky course as it seems to set more and more parts of the world in fire. Opposition to the war on Iraq is the official party line and we have a long-term commitment to the Palestinian cause. Our party has a long reputation for acting for disarmament of nuclear weapons as well as for diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.

I don't know what you mean when you say that the party left in Sweden has been told to f*** off. Our party has always been a left-wing party and we continue to be so. In the general election we face at the moment, government ministers who travel around the country speak about the importance to make it clear to the public that we are the dominating left-wing party as we need to mobilise our voters to go out voting on polling day. We would never have held power in Sweden for so long if voters hadn't believed that we take the issues of working people seriously.

I don't know about the UK, but in the Swedish Social Democrats we see the talk of swing voters deciding elections as a theroretical assumption at best. I am right now working my ass to win core working class voters to accually go and vote to make sure we don't let our Tories in. Equality is not just about what we want to do when we are in power, it's something we need to win the elections.

9:18 pm, August 12, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Peter - if we had a similar electoral system to Sweden we would be able to concentrate on mobilising our core vote the same way you do, rather than focussing on a few thousand swing voters in a handful of marginal seats - one of the reasons why I'm in favour of proportional representation. We could also probably have a more tightly defined social democratic party with our Campaign Group off somewhere separate in an equivalent of your Left Party.

In ten years spent in representing the Young Labour and Labour Students in ECOSY I found not just the Swedes but even more "socialist" parties like the French PS, who sent delegates from their own left wing, could believe that we tolerated the ultra left in our party to the extent we do. The French take was that there was no way that anyone with, for instance, Benn's politics of nationalising the commanding heights of the economy, would be in the PS, in France they would be in the PCF.

If I was living in a country like Sweden where the context was 70 years of social democracy rather than 18 years of Thatcherism I would probably have no problem signing up to your current party platform . But that's not the context we are operating in in the UK.

Similarly I think most of the Swedish Social Democrats I know would have no problem backing Blair or at least Brown if they were Brits.

My perspective after a decade of working with leading people from the SSU and SSF in Europe is that with the possible exception of the Danes (who even agreed with us on foreign and defence policy!) the Swedes were the nearest cultural fit to Young Labour and Labour Students - pragmatic, disciplined, loyal to the party, and open to new ideas. They were certainly the people we voted with most of the time. There are obviously different traditions with the SAP -I seem to remember Malmo people being offside in my terms whereas Gothenberg ones were more modernising and people from the social democratic heartlands in the far north came across as more like "old Labour rightwingers" similar to some of our Brownites.

12:22 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger Peter Gustavsson said...

Luke, the reason I made my comment was that you used Sweden as an argument to exclude other members of your own party. For someone standing on the outside watching it's quite astonishing seeing you on one hand arguing for a more progressive policy against poverty and on the other wanting to exclude those who are most outspoken on this very policy.

It's obvious that you have something personal against Tony Benn, but isn't he yesterday's news? You may call yourself a "moderniser", but you seem to be very focused on what's happened in the past. That's sad, as I think the UK needs new alliances in order to go forward and not back.

2:18 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I don't think the British Hard Left are very outspoken about poverty. E.g. if you look at John McDonnell's policies http://www.john4leader.org.uk/policies.html he mentions pensions but nothing at all about wider issues of poverty and inequality. The left agenda in the '80s was focussed on CND, opposition to Europe and nationalisation.

The British left is loudest about issues where they are completly out of tune with the working class core Labour vote - who are probably to the right of Blair on defence, immigration and crime.

My experience is that the most leftwing people in the Labour Party tend to be those with least direct experience of poverty and least actual need for a Labour government - hence adopting highly theoretical and unpopular positions that mean we lose elections very badly when they are in the driving seat in the party. As http://www.fourthterm.net says, "too many on the left seem to think the purity of opposition is preferrable to the responsibilities that come with government.
We've been here before. In 1979 too many Labour Party members thought the party needed time in opposition. The price for that mistake wasn't paid at the dinner tables of Hampstead or Morningside, but by millions of ordinary working people".

My distaste for Benn senior is that he played a major role in making Labour unelectable for 18 years, during which time millions of people endured cuts to schools and hospitals, poverty and mass unemployment that were avoidable.

Looking back further Labour wasted years in the 40s, 50s, and 60s in a sterile debate about nationalising or re-nationalising chunks of industry whilst not tackling the systemic inequality and class ridden nature of British society, whereas the Swedes got on with creating a more equal society.

Luckily Benn himself is yesterday's news but you need to learn the lessons of the past to avoid repeating them.

If you look at previous posts you will see that far from calling myself a "moderniser" I was quite happy when someone called me "a throwback to the 1950s". I see Blair and Brown as "restoration Labour" - bringing back the tradition of Bevin, Morrison, Gaitskell, Healey etc.

3:38 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger Peter Gustavsson said...

I entered the website you recommended and found that McDonnell's first two policies are public services and free and comprehensive education. He also mentions trade union rights before he goes on to the issue of peace. I don't see anything about nationalisation in the policies he says he will focus on.

Sure, McDonnell doesn't mention the word "poverty", but he has this in common with the Scandinavian social democracies. Our policy focus on universal welfare, i.e. to improve schools, hospitals etc for all, which is in the benefit of the poorest but gets support from almost everyone. It's through achieving a big public sector financed through taxes that we have been successful in achieving social goals.

Unfortunately, your reply just confirms my impression that you continue fighting past wars. How about trying to make peace with your comrades on the left of you and trying to move a progressive agenda forward instead?

5:03 pm, August 13, 2006

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

But Peter a) there isn't really any absolute poverty in Sweden because of your previous governments whereas in the UK there is both absolute poverty (people without enough money to enjoy the basics of a happy fulfilling lives) and gross levels of inequality and b) New Labour has already invested massively in health and education.

When the left of the party start promoting constructive ideas rather than attacking the leadership, and when they show that they have learnt that the politics they promoted in the 80s made Labour unelectable, I'll stop attacking them.

In the mean time, a precondition of keeping a Labour government and being able to fund public services and build a better society is to stop the left having any influence in the party.

5:31 pm, August 13, 2006


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