London Child Poverty Alliance has come together to publish a manifesto for London’s Local Authorities, with twelve recommendations which could make things better for London’s families.
Doing better for London’s families
London is an economically dynamic city with a wealth almost twice that of the rest of the nation. Yet, children living here are more likely to grow up in poverty than their peers elsewhere in the country. Four in ten children are living in poverty and that figure is expected to rise.
London families need action to help them overcome these barriers.
London local authorities face particular challenges to best support the families they serve. Money is very difficult to find for councils, but even more so for their low-income residents:
- Housing costs are soaring, rising numbers of children across the capital are homeless and many families do not have access to affordable, secure, quality housing
- Wages have flat-lined, there is a shortage of family friendly jobs in London and the cost of living is soaring
- There is a chronic shortage of flexible and affordable childcare
- Health inequalities are increasing as families in London struggle to afford to buy nutritious, healthy food
This manifesto looks to support Councillors and Councils with 11 practical recommendations to help families in London overcome the challenges they face.
Each recommendation offers candidates an opportunity to show they are committed to tackling child poverty and making London work for every family.
The manifesto is supported by a broad coalition of charities, working as part of the London Child Poverty Alliance (LCPA) and committed to tackling child poverty in London.
The LCPA brings together collective knowledge, expertise and experience to develop and champion the practical solutions needed to tackle child poverty in London.
Voice and representation
Overall, we would hope that Councils can commit to being open to listening to their residents and, in particular, proactive in seeking the views of families on low incomes about life in the borough. We want to see councils actively engage communities in order to tackle inequalities of voice and power that we have seen across London. Local authorities should develop meaningful consultation processes to ensure the experiences of families on low incomes are heard, including but not solely social housing tenants, and to listen to professionals who work with low income families in the boroughs as well.
- Commit to being open to listening to residents and, in particular, proactive in seeking the views of families on low incomes about life in the borough. Actively engage communities in order to tackle inequalities of voice & power. Good practice example: Cooperative Council model in Lambeth aims to deliver services with its communities, rather than to its communities
Cost of living
Families in London face far higher living costs than families living anywhere else in England. Nearly 40% of Londoners have an income below the amount needed to achieve a basic decent standard of living, with children the most likely to live below minimum income standards. Work is no longer a route out of poverty. Working full-time on the National Minimum Wage does not provide enough for families in London to live on and two-thirds of children growing up in poverty live in households where at least one adult is working. Meanwhile changes to the benefits systems, including the roll out of universal credit and benefits freeze, have hit families in London hardest with child poverty rates expected to rise significantly by 2021.
- Become an accredited London Living Wage employer and provide support and incentives for businesses and other local employers to do the same. Good practice example: Greenwich Council, which is accredited and offers a business rate relief scheme for businesses that become accredited.
- Provide comprehensive joined-up support on Universal Credit, by working closely with Job Centre Plus (JCP) and advice agencies to ensure claimants receive expert advice and financial assistance at every stage of their claim. Good practice example: Westminster Council piloted an approach in 2014, prior to the rollout of Universal Credit, which brought representatives from support organisations into the JCP. JCP staff were then able to walk customers to organisations that could assist them, instead of just signposting or referring them.
- Reduce minimum payments for low-income and vulnerable residents in your Council Tax Reduction Scheme to below 10 per cent (if not zero) and end bailiff use against claimants. Good practice example: Camden Council, which decided to change its policy of asking for a minimum payment to offering 100% support this financial year.
In-work poverty has risen by over 50% in the last decade and over two-thirds of children living in poverty are in working households. Many families in London experience difficulty finding and staying in employment because of the challenges associated with the accessibility and affordability of childcare and the lack of work compatible with caring responsibilities.
London has the lowest rates of maternal employment in the UK and the lowest supply of quality, flexible jobs which mean working parents often get stuck in part-time work that is low-paid and with poor career progression routes.
- All job vacancies within London local authorities and associated arms-length organisations should be advertised with flexibility as the norm. Employers can make use of the freely available Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline. A variety of tools and accreditation systems are available to provide routes for all councils to open up jobs to flexible working, within their organisation and in the local labour market. Good practice example: Camden Council have shown strategic leadership towards becoming a flexible employer. Through participation in an accreditation scheme they have undertaken a structured improvement plan to drive internal change in flexible working, flexible hiring and flexible commissioning, as well as engaging with external local employers to increase the number of quality flexible jobs available for local residents.
Early Years, Childcare and Education
High quality early education is vital for children’s health and development, especially for children in poverty who stand to gain the most by attending high quality settings. Space to play and engage in physical activity in a safe environment is important for developing healthy bodies and healthy minds in early years.
Access to affordable, flexible childcare also affects people’s ability to find, stay in and progress in work. But less than half of local authorities in London have enough childcare, and childcare providers are concerned that funding rates for free childcare for three and four year olds could cause shortages to get worse. Local authorities have a responsibility under the Childcare Act 2006 to ensure there is sufficient childcare for every family that needs it. Yet, London’s childcare sufficiency is poor compared to the rest of the country. Even where childcare is available, families may struggle to afford London’s high costs.
- Ensure there is enough affordable childcare for low income families. Good practice example: In order to agree a new or renew a funding agreement with the council, Bromley Council requested all early years settings submit their admission policies to ensure they had all stated a fair free and free only offer that was inclusive and accessible to low income families.
- Include childcare in local industrial or economic strategies in order to make sure there is enough childcare available, including planning for flexible childcare to meet the needs of the local workforce.
The cost of housing in the capital is soaring and London faces an extreme shortage of homes that people can afford to live in of all tenure types. Children in poverty are most likely to live in the private rented sector, where the lowest quartile rents are more than 150% higher than elsewhere in England. Families often experience insecurity of tenures, resulting in frequent house moves, living in suitable temporary accommodation or damp, overcrowded and poor quality homes. All of which have detrimental long term impacts on the health and wellbeing of children.
Affordable rented homes are desperately needed to reduce homelessness and waiting lists and new expectations will be placed on local authorities when the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force in April 2018. The new local councillor terms present a great opportunity for innovative work and ground breaking solutions to the housing crisis. Housing associations could be ideal partners for increasing supply, new powers from the Housing and Planning Act 2016 can be put into force and addressing problems in the planning system could increase affordable and social housing supply.
- Local authorities should review and develop their work to make best use of their new powers to enforce private rented sector conditions. As ever more people are dependent on the private rented sector to provide a home it is vital that these homes are safe. Good practice example: Newham Council displays how licensing is an important method for supporting enforcement. Since introducing mandatory licensing across the borough improvements have been indisputable. There have been 1,217 prosecutions of criminal landlords in Newham which would be slower and more bureaucratic without licensing. 81% of residents agree that the current scheme has been effective.
- Local authorities should enthusiastically adopt the Mayor’s Homes for Londoners supplementary planning guidance, in particular those sections on viability and section 106 affordable housing contributions. Good practice example: Greenwich Council was the first borough in London to make viability documents used in their planning processes publicly accessible. Whilst there have been some challenges due to the commercial sensitivity of some information transparent viability assessments lives up to the open and honest planning system constituents expect of their local authorities.
- Local authorities should embrace the new expectations within the Homelessness Reduction Act as a genuine way to improve their homelessness provisions. This is the biggest new piece of homeless legislation since 2002 and represents a significant change in the expectations placed on local authorities. Local authorities should commit to a culture-shift by recruiting and training homelessness staff to make a thorough assessment of need and work with the applicant to decide what reasonable steps are necessary to meet their needs and preferences. They must also provide, or commission, good quality local housing advice and support services to ensure that people have the advice and support they need to keep or find a suitable home.
Food is vital to survival. Yet many children living in poverty in London live in households experiencing food poverty. Food poverty is the inability to afford, or to have access to, food to make up a healthy diet. Experiences of food poverty can vary in severity, from worrying about being able to afford enough food, to going hungry. In practice, this means that these children have to skip or skimp on meals, with their parents forced to opt for less healthy options because they represent a cheaper way to fill up/obtain energy. This can result in episodes of hunger, chronic poor nutrition and low educational attainment.
Councillors can play a role in reducing household insecurity and food poverty in their borough by monitoring what their respective councils are doing around welfare reforms that affect people’s incomes.
- Protect and improve the uptake of existing food policies and publicly-funded nutrition programmes that combat food poverty such as Healthy Start, free school meals and holiday food provision. Good practice example: Through the Lewisham Food Partnership, Lewisham Council’s Public Health Team worked with Lewisham Training Kitchen and FareShare London to pilot a week long holiday meal provision project in the summer of 2017. Over the week, 269 meals were served to children aged 5 to 18 years old. The meals were compliant with the school food standards and puddings contained very little or no added sugar, supporting the council’s efforts to become a Sugar Smart borough. The recipes were distributed to children to take home to their families. The pilot has provided useful information and created a dialogue across teams. The borough now hopes to establish a steering group to enable holiday meal provision in future.
- Create and implement a comprehensive food poverty action plan to ensure that all local children have good access to affordable, nourishing food. The plan could include a commitment to creating a co-ordinated database to share knowledge with local service providers and voluntary organisations about the drivers of food poverty locally. Good practice example: In London eight out of its 33 councils have created food poverty action plans. In 2016, five councils were awarded GLA funding to develop food poverty action plans. These councils were Croydon, Enfield, Merton, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets. During the process councils have spoken about how helpful the creation of these plans has been in exploring the current situation of food in their respective boroughs and working with key stakeholders to develop a plan that address the key issues faced by local residents.