Saturday, 27 June 2009

Pipe: The message must be clear, not true

Hackney's politicians kicked-off last week's Full Council meeting with an argument about the minutes of the April meeting. This was in relation to Mayor Jules Pipe's accusation that Conservative Cllr Steinberger had abused his position as chair of Hackney's Overview and Scrutiny committee. The Conservatives wanted to change the minutes.

Later, during a seemingly pedantic exchange between Mayor Pipe and Conservative Cllr Harvey Odze, Odze attacked the Mayor's long-running claim that Hackney has no tube stations, pointing out that Manor House tube is in the borough.

Pipe replied that while Odze was technically correct and that, yes, a few staircases from underground stations did surface on the fringes of the borough, he thought it best not mention them in case it confused the clear message that Hackney has no tube stations.

Pipe could be forgiven for maintaining his 'clear' message but there was something disturbing about the ease of his confession that Odze's facts would only have confused newspaper correspondents and government officials who needed persuading. These facts did not fit in with the image of Hackney that he was promoting. It would be interesting to know where else Pipe may have applied this clear message policy.

May be his speech at the council meeting was an example. The Mayor spent his alloted time telling councillors the good news about Hackney as set out in - Place Survey England - Headline Table Results 2008 which appeared to show that Hackney residents love their borough.

Some of the survey findings that weren't mentioned by Mayor Pipe were that: 47% of Hackney respondents think there is a problem with people not treating each other with respect and consideration; 56.4% of respondents "think that drug use or drug dealing is a problem in their local areas" - exceeded only by Newham and Tower Hamlets (60.7% and 60.5%); 41% of Hackney residents think that drink and rowdy behaviour is a problem in their area and 37% think that anti-social behaviour is a problem in their local area.

And yet the survey then claimed that 71% of Hackney residents "are satisfied with their local area as place to live" (In comparison to 56% in Newham and 69% in Tower Hamlets - 90% in Kensington and Chelsea and 92% in Richmond Upon Thames.)

In Hackney only 27% of the people who were asked to take part in the survey, took part. The report said: "where response rates are low (less than 30%) and confidence intervals are wide (outside +/- 3 percentage points) some caution may be necessary when using the results to set performance targets (for example as part of local area agreements), particularly when the target is linked to a financial reward." So may be the Hackney figures can't be trusted.

But the survey - and the Mayor's interpretation of it - should provide an antidote to figures published earlier this week by the Office of National Statistics which apparently show that Hackney kids, along with those in Tower Hamlets and Newham, get the worst start in life and are likely to be obese and living in households where every adult is unemployed.

Meanwhile comments made by security minister and Hackney resident Lord West of Spithead - that it is not safe to walk around Hackney with an iPhone - might not have fitted in with the borough's official image management either.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Diane Abbott: Church is only bastion of order in Hackney

A Parliamentary debate on knife crime (9 June) was mentioned in the Hackney Gazette last week. Like this report from the London Echo the Gazette focused on Diane Abbott's comments about educating mothers, not sending them out "to stack shelves".

In her speech she also raised concerns about the ability of mothers from some communities to parent effectively when not surrounded by their extended families. She also said that the church was sometimes the "only bastion of order" in inner-city boroughs.

Her views not only appear to conflict with government policy, but also with Hackney Council which is attempting to tackle its huge 'workless' (unemployed and not seeking a job) population. Hackney now also faces rapidly rising numbers of dole claimants.

The speech went down well with Conservative David Davies MP for Monmouth (Not David Davis former shadow Home Secretary): "It has been a pleasure to listen to the debate. I am sorry that the House is so empty at the moment, because the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) made, without doubt, the best speech of the afternoon; indeed, it was one of the best speeches that I have heard in this place."

Davies later said that he had visited areas like Hackney and felt intimidated by gangs of youths: "Frankly—I am sorry to have to say this—my thought on returning from one of those visits was, “Thank God I don’t live in that area and my children don’t go to school there.” That is just being honest."

Diane Abbott's response was: "I see the same groups on my way home, as I live in my constituency. I would say this to the hon. Gentleman: if you were a middle-aged black woman
and looked them straight in the eye, you might find that they took a step backwards."

(Diane may have learned her technique on how to handle difficult customers here: technique devised for keeping werewolves at bay)

To which Davies replied: "If the hon. Lady looked me straight in the eye in a venomous way, I would probably take a step backwards as well."

For a link to Diane Abbott's speech click here but scroll down the page to the speech.

Turn to the church?

In one part of her speech Diane Abbott made this surprising statement about the role of the church in areas like Hackney: "The answer to those problems is long-term; there is no question about that. We have to look at our policies on work, and look at how we support parents. We have to look at how we work with the Churches. I admit that I am not a regular church-goer myself, but often the only bastion of order, values and boundaries in inner-city areas is the Church."

The problems she was talking about were that mothers from communities which have a tradition of extended families are not equipped to deal with parenting on their own. She said that this had contributed to the rise in gang culture but she also pointed out that that it was possible to find top performing students and criminal gang members in the same family.

Abbott said: "In the summer holidays, when I took my bus pass—I am not a driver—and took my son to reading schemes in the library, or youth projects in museums, or whatever a person could take a little child to on a bus, I would often find that I was the only ethnic minority parent there. It is not that other minority parents in Hackney do not care for their children, but their notions of being a parent are limited.

"They perhaps come from cultures where the child would have been brought up collectively by aunties and grannies. Instead, they are isolated on some estate, and the aunties and grannies are not within reach. The parents are thrown back on to their own knowledge, which is limited.

"I take the view, I am afraid, that my Government’s emphasis on putting single-parent mothers out to work is wrong. Some of those single-parent mothers need first to be taught to be decent parents. Once they have been taught to be decent parents who are at home when their children come home from school, it will be time to talk about sending them out to work to stack shelves."

Abbott's view on educating rather than employing mothers not only conflicts with the government, it is also appears to conflict with Hackney Council's leadership which has made tackling worklessness a top priority over the last few years - lone parents get a special mention on Team Hackney's introductory page on the borough's economy)

Team Hackney provided further detail on plans to tackle worklessness in its Word  (doc) Document Team Hackney Worklessness Model which "sets out the priority groups and associated targets relating to worklessness" with a "the primary focus" on workless 18 – 24 year olds but also adds that "Other priority groups include lone parents, people on incapacity benefits and those that are economically inactive."

On 10 June the Mirror picked-up DA's story about few Hackney unemployed getting jobs on the Olympic site. London 2012 Olympics: £1.1bn cost but just 115 jobless locals taken on

Will Hackney return to 17% on the dole?

In December 2007 there were 2,514 people claiming job seekers allowance in Hackney South and Shoreditch. By last month, May 2009, this had increased to 5,296 people.

In December 2007, the 2,514 people claiming JSA represented 4.7% of Hackney South’s working population. The 5,296 people now making the claims represents 7.4 per cent of the working population in Hackney South and Shoreditch.

To check the figures here's a link to the Office of National Statistics webpage on regional JSA claimants.

There is no sign that this trend is weakening and considering that this recession has been described as most extreme in several decades, is there a possibility that JSA claimant levels could exceed the 17% of working population seen in the 1990s?

The last detailed report on the borough’s economic situation was published in 2007 (Word  (doc) Document Hackney's Economy EDP Paper 2007 ) at a time when the level of claimants was falling faster than the national average.

The report said: “Since the early 1990s unemployment claimants have fallen from over 17% of the economically active population to below 6% in 2006. This has been consistent with the economic trends witnessed in London and England and Wales, although the decline has been steeper in Hackney.”

This now appears to be in the process of a sharp U-turn. Earlier this month the Office of National Statistics released the May figures for people claiming Job Seekers Allowance. In Hackney South 7.4% working population is now on the dole, up from 7.1% in April and 6.8% in March, 6.4% in February and 5.8% in January 2009. In December 2007, the level of JSA claimants was 4.7% of the working population.

The TeamHackney report also outlined the challenges facing the borough.

The biggest of these, and one which still dwarfs the levels of claimants in the borough, is the issue of 'worklessness'. There are more recent figures but this document on the borough's worklessness policy(Word  (doc) Document Team Hackney Worklessness Model) provides this outline: "Hackney’s employment rate is currently 55.7%, which is almost 13% lower than the London average. With nearly 63,000 people of working age residents either unemployed or economically inactive, Hackney’s worklessness challenge is huge. Indeed, for Hackney to improve its employment rate to that of the wider London economy, a further 18,000 residents need to move into sustainable employment."

This is where the council's attention has been focused for the last few years - on the people in the borough who aren't looking for work.

In contrast to TeamHackney's concern about worklessness, the view on Job Seekers Allowance claimants suggested that high levels of claimants didn't mean that there weren't any jobs: "The raw data on claimant unemployment masks what appears to be quite considerable amount of churn within the labour market. Between March 2003 and February 2006, over 10,400 people have left the claimant register as a result of finding employment and a further 6,500 have moved into accredited training or education. This suggests that Jobcentre Plus and other employment initiatives in the borough (such as Working Links with 2,289 job outputs in 2004-6) are relatively successful at finding employment or appropriate training.

"However, given the relative stability of the total number of claimants it would suggest that many people are entering into short term or unstable employment and soon return to the unemployment register. This is supported by recent research undertaken by Jobcentre plus. A random sample of 730 clients claiming JSA benefits confirmed that overall 64% of the sample had claimed JSA benefits at least twice during the analysis period of one year."

This was the view when claimant levels were falling and the biggest issue was the number of people who did not want to work. Now people who do want to work are losing their jobs and not finding new ones.

Some related issues:

There is evidence that the level of entrepreneurship in the borough is declining: Hackney's entrepreneurs are disappearing.

Diane Abbot, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and others are also concerned that Hackney residents are not benefiting from employment opportunities that were expected to come with the Olympics: details and links can be found in this blog: Election fraud epidemic: More to come.

With some misfires: Diane Abbott's muddled crusade for the unemployed

Last week the Evening Standard singled-out Hackney South and Shoreditch in story about rising levels of unemployment pointing out that more than 10% of men in the constituency are unemployed.

A number of candidates for the European Elections answered questions about Hackney's economy in the three previous blogs:

Candidate 8: Labour promotes ghettoisation
Candidate 3: EU won't allow Hackney workers to be undercut

The Socialist Party of Great Britain candidate said that areas that had seen rapid increases in employment levels in the good times would be see equally rapid losses when things get bad.