Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Lambeth UNISON public statement in defence of our communities

Lambeth UNISON statement in defence of our communities

From last weekend there has been rioting and looting spreading across London. People in working class communities have looked on with fear as riots destroyed local shops and left some people homeless. Clearly we don’t support opportunistic looting or for acts of random violence. However, if we are to avoid a return to the social unrest and public disorder seen in the 1980s, this demands a response from our community and its leaders which goes beyond mere condemnation.

We must ask why are our young people so angry and how can we unite our community?

The police

The police killing Mark Duggan, acted as a spark for the recent riots.
This was not an isolated incident
Since 1990 320 people have died in police custody (or following other forms of contact with the police)[1]
Stop and search is used as a daily form of humiliation, especially of young black men.
In the student protests we saw violence used routinely against political protestors, including school students

Tory cuts destroying our communities

The deliberately savage reductions in public spending imposed upon our communities by the Coalition Government weaken our communities and create anger and despair.

In March Haringey Council approved cuts of £84 million from a total budget of £273 million. There was a savage 75% cut to the Youth Service budget, including: closing the youth centres; Connexions careers advice service for young people reduced by 75%; and the children’s centre service reduced. Haringey has one of the highest numbers of children living in severe poverty, and unemployment in the borough is among the highest in the UK. In London as a whole, youth unemployment is at 23%.

Lambeth Council have announced their intention to cut £76million from their budget in the next 3 years. This includes reducing adventure playground opening hours to weekends and holidays only; £1.45 million cut from Youth Centres and Holiday activities; Children’s social care cut but by £3.5million, deep cuts in the Connexions service with opening hours halved, and cuts in Buildings Schools for the Future; alternative education provision (Closing OLIVE School and cutting back Park Campus), and cutting the Young & Safe project which aims to reduce youth crime.

At the same time last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1,000 richest people in Britain rose by 30 per cent to £333.5 billion. The wealthy bankers whose conduct caused the economic crisis continue to be rewarded with multi-million pound bonuses, while the jobs and pensions of public sector workers – the people dealing with the aftermath of the riots today - are under threat.

What needs to be done?

In order to avoid further riots two things are necessary. First, our police service must become transparently accountable to the communities it serves. There is legitimate and longstanding community concern about deaths arising from police action, and action to address this concern must not get lost in the cacophony of condemnation following the riots.

Secondly, the Government must reverse the disproportionate reductions in local government spending imposed upon Inner London so that we can maintain the social infrastructure which gives our young people a stake - and a voice - in our society. If the Government will not do this, then the responsibility falls upon Labour-led local authorities in London to represent the interests of their electors by fighting, with all means at their disposal, for the resources necessary to provide the vital services which sustain the cohesion of our communities.

The answer does not lie in David Cameron's "Big Society" or Lambeth's own "Co-operative Council" but in the defence of public services from a reckless attack by a Government which is indifferent to the social damage being wrought by their economic policies, some of the consequences of which have now been played out on the streets of London.

Lambeth Council needs urgently to review cuts already agreed and being made in services to young people in particular if we are to avoid further disorder and damage to our diverse, vibrant and tolerant community.

UNISON calls for an organised defence of public services and our communities, led by trade unions and community organisations and pledges to support a public meeting in Brixton in the next few days to discuss how to build this campaign.

[1] Inquest Statistics, http://www.inquest.org.uk/

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