Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

I am delighted that the National Youth Theatre have been awarded funding from the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund to partner with Samuel Rhodes School in Islington. This will develop a model of creative education and employment opportunities to help young people understand the positive choices open to them and to achieve their potential, in spite of the learning barriers they may experience.

This project combines two things which are close to my heart. Firstly, the National Youth Theatre is a charity which I have supported for many years. It is great to have such a fantastic initiative within my constituency, encouraging the careers of such luminaries as Dame Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Bonneville, Catherine Tate, Matt Smith and Zawe Ashton.

The National Youth Theatre aims to give free and affordable opportunities both onstage and backstage to young people aged 14-25 from all corners of the UK. They seek out the most diverse and the most talented through an active audition programme and community engagement. These young people are then offered unique, life-changing experiences working with some of the UK’s leading professional directors, writers, producers, designers and stage managers. Ultimately, the calibre of their output is invariably superb and electrifying to watch.

The second element of the project which is close to my heart is its focus upon offering Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support. This is why I am particularly pleased that the National Youth Theatre is partnering with Samuel Rhodes School. It matters to me that SEND pupils have access to the same opportunities as their peers, and I applaud the work of the Samuel Rhodes School in working to make this possible.

The partnership between the two organisations will start this autumn and last for three years. During this time pupils will engage with National Youth Theatre’s Associate Artist practitioners and their young Members. This inclusive approach will support the engagement of young people from Samuel Rhodes with the full range of what the National Youth Theatre offers. The long term goal of the project is to reduce the vulnerability of the young people involved, moving them away from risks of criminality and helping them to make positive choices about their futures.

I would to thank the Mayor of London for his part in making this vital collaborative project possible, but I particularly want to applaud the National Youth Theatre and Samuel Rhodes for their tireless commitment to supporting some of our most vulnerable, but promising young people. I await the results with anticipation and look forward to hearing about how the partnership progresses.

Photograph shows National Youth Theatre inclusion programme workshop with Highshore School. Photography by Alessandra Davison.  

In September 2013, I was contacted by a 17-year-old girl. Along with her mum and her four siblings, she had just been evicted from her home in London. Due to the increasing number of people being declared homeless and the demands on housing stock, she and her family were left with no choice but to move in with the father, a father whom the mother had walked out on because he beat her and her young children.

For her own safety, the young 17-year-old refused to move in with her father and instead made her bed on the floor of a friend’s bedroom; in the shop of an auntie; and, tragically, the back of any night buses that she could get on. As a result, she dropped out of college, went cap in hand to friends and extended family members for food parcels and became ill worrying about her mother and younger siblings who had been forced to move back in with an abusive father. After months of hard work and finding several temporary solutions through the charity sector, we found her a place to call her own through the private-rented sector and she has returned to college and is going onto university. This young girl’s story, while tragic, had a happy ending, but only because she reached out and was able to get support navigating the heavily bureaucratic and punitive process. There are thousands of others who aren’t so lucky, recent figures released by Shelter predict that 90,000 children will be homeless at Christmas this year. Many of these will be as a result of the volatile London housing market, where demand outstrips supply.

In February 2009 Boris Johnson pledged to “end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012”[1], yet in the Mayor’s own Equality Report he acknowledges that his pledge to address homelessness has failed. Research shows that homelessness has increased every year at an alarming rate under Boris Johnson’s mayoralty. In 2013/14, 3,473 more people slept rough than in the year before he was elected in 2008.

The fact that Boris commissioned a project aimed at stopping people spending more than one night on the streets shows that he is aware that there is an issue, but the ever-increasing figures show that, once again, his pledge has failed, with the figure growing since the project was first formed in 2008.

A failing Mayoralty is compounded by the Government’s change to welfare reform, which has also led to an increase in rough sleeping and homelessness in London. In particular the increase in private sector rents and reduced Local Housing Allowance entitlement has made it difficult for some renters to meet private sector rents in London. Furthermore, private landlords are even more reluctant to accept those claiming Local Housing Allowance. The Department for Work and Pensions carried out research in June 2012, which showed that one-third of landlords currently letting to Local Housing Allowance claimants have either decided to no longer let to benefit claimants or are seriously considering no longer letting to them because of the reforms.[2] This all leads to an increased demand on the third sector to bridge the gap left by a faltering and significantly-reduced public sector. It’s really sad to see rough sleeping and homelessness charities that have been badly affected by government cuts.

I challenged Boris at Mayor’s Question Time this week about this, asking him why, for instance, TfL have cut all their outreach workers that work with homeless people on night buses and I’m pleased that he has agreed to look into this.

His reply is complacent and disappointing. The young 17-year-old girl who came to me was using TfL buses as a place to sleep at night, and while she now has a place to call home, without wider political will and public funding to address the root causes of homelessness, we are left firefighting against an impossible force.

Christmas is next month and I dread to think about the number of Londoners that will be sleeping rough because they have nowhere to turn. One homeless young person is one too many. 90,000 is a national scandal. The Mayor and his millionaire colleagues who rule Westminster should be ashamed.

[1] ‘Boris Johnson plans to end rough sleeping in London by 2012’, Local Government Executive, 13 February 2009

[2] ‘Private landlords turning backs on benefits tenants’, Inside Housing, 15 June 2012

Analysis of the latest figures from the Skills Funding Agency by London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold OBE, has shown that the number of people in Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest starting apprenticeships has fallen for the second year running. The figures have cast major doubt on Boris Johnson’s ability to fulfil his election pledge to deliver 250,000 apprenticeships by 2016.

The provisional figures show that only 38,550 apprenticeships were started Londonwide in the 2013/14 academic year, down 6,520 on last year’s numbers. In Hackney the overall number of apprenticeshipsstarted dropped by 120 last year from 1,180 in 2012/13 to 1,060 in 2013/14; in Islington the numbers dropped from 890 in 2012/13 to 730 in 2013/14; and in Waltham Forest the numbers dropped from 1,710 in 2012/13 to 1,570 in 2013/14. This is the second year in a row in which the number of apprenticeship starts has fallen.

In June this year the Londonwide Local Enterprise Partnership stated that the capital would need to increase the number of apprentices by 19% each year if it is to hit the Mayor’s target. Despite that warning, London now has the second lowest apprenticeship start rate in the UK with only the North East lagging behind it. By contrast the North West saw almost double London’s number of apprenticeship starts.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM, Labour London Assembly Member for Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, said:

“It is deeply worrying that for the second year running the number of apprenticeshipsstarted across Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest has fallen, making it clearer than ever that Boris Johnson’s target is not going to be met.

“Good quality apprenticeships are vital to getting our young people the skills, training and expertise they need to succeed in the jobs market; particularly in a city as competitive as London.

“Last year’s fall in apprenticeships was a clear signal that the Mayor needed to do more to encourage companies to take on apprentices and work closely with local councils, yet little appears to have been done and we have now seen two years of falls in the number of apprenticeships being started. Boris Johnson’s inability to get more businesses signed up for apprenticeships is not only leaving London falling behind the rest of the country, but letting down the young Londoners who are desperately seeking these kind of opportunities. It is important to distinguish the Mayor’s work from that of local Councils, who are all working very hard on their own merits to secure apprenticeships for young Londoners, but no matter how hard Councils and others try, without the clout and influence of the Mayor, and without him pulling his weight then we’re not going to hit our target. I urge Mayor Johnson to work harder on securing good apprenticeship opportunities for young Londoners and challenge him not to make it a hat-trick of year-on-year decreases in the number of apprenticeships being offered.”

ENDS

Notes

The number of apprenticeships started by region:

Region 2011/12 2012/13 2013/14  
  Full Year Full Year
Full Year
(provisional)
 
North East 38,340 35,870 30,020  
North West 89,310 84,180 70,640  
Yorkshire and The Humber 64,200 59,900  
East Midlands 46,790 49,010 39,290
West Midlands 60,470 62,430 51,400
East of England 45,820 46,220 39,870
London 47,230 45,070 38,550
South East 66,850 68,960 58,690
South West 55,950 52,540 45,200
England Total 515,000 504,200 426,200
 
Other 5,600 6,040 6,220
       
Grand Total 520,600 510,200 432,400

Source: Breakdown by geography, equality & diversity and sector subject area: starts 2013/14

The London Enterprise Panel Skills and Employment Working Group, Apprenticeships Update can be found here.

At the end of last year, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, disgracefully equated vulnerable sections of society to ‘cornflakes’ in his infamous Margaret Thatcher speech.  He also went on to state that inequality is ‘natural’ and ‘essential’.  His oxymoronic cure for inequality (which in London equates to thousands using foodbanks and sleeping rough whilst the ‘super-rich’ thrive) is to cause further hardship for vulnerable groups because, he believes, it is healthy to foster a ‘spirit of envy’.

It is shameful that the Mayor of a city as diverse and wealthy as London can advocate such a view and get away with it.  Despite the reams of evidence that demonstrate the structural inequality across the capital, the Mayor keeps his fingers in his ears and lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  It is made even worse that this is due not only to his general incompetence, but also to his genuine, personal outlook on society – as demonstrated in his speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture.

My cost of living report, Falling Further Behind, is a rebuttal to the Mayor’s dangerous ‘cornflake economics’ and underlines the structural inequality that exists in London and the actions that he can take to lower the barriers to success, which are outlined in the paragraphs that follow.

The evidence in my report shows that Londoners from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds face barriers to success due to low pay; employment discrimination; food poverty; lack of appropriate childcare provision; high public transport fares; and high rents.  A report by the Runnymede Trust for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community in 2012 found that 25% of the unemployment rate for Black and Asian men and women is a result of prejudice and direct discrimination.  The report also found that BAME women face discrimination ‘at every stage of the recruitment process.’  London’s Poverty Profile shows that half of all people in poverty in London are from BAME backgrounds.

Londoners with disabilities face barriers due to a smaller supply of suitable, accessible housing; cuts to disability allowances; food poverty; inaccessible public transport; lack of specialised childcare provision; and barriers to employment.  This in turn, has forced many to turn to food banks and risk their health by cutting back on heating so they can afford the bills.  According to the London Cost of Living Survey, 74% of disabled Londoners have cut back on heating their homes in order to afford their energy bills.

Women face various barriers due to a lack of affordable childcare; low pay and low pensions; insecure employment contracts; public transport safety concerns; and widespread sexual discrimination.  Once again, the Mayor falls short when addressing this inequality.  Indeed, in February 2014, the Mayor claimed women are not ‘anywhere near’ achieving equal employment opportunities in the labour market, but that his own pool of advisers, in which ‘almost half’ of the staff are women, was an example of how things could be done.  However, it turns out that only 4 of his 14 paid advisers are actually women (28%).

The inequality story for young and older Londoners can also not just be dismissed as a result of, what the Mayor, in his speech, put down to, ‘natural and God-given talent’.  Children and young people are facing barriers to success due to hunger impacting on their education; being forced to pay out high rents for accomodation; the cancellation of the education maintenance allowance; increased university tuition fees; and a lack of job opportunities.  Meanwhile, elder Londoners are facing hardship due to high energy bills; malnutrition; and rising costs of everyday necessities.  As highlighted in my report, it also appears that Londoners are retiring later than people in other parts of the UK with 11% of those aged 65 and over in work compared with the national average of 9.5%.  In the North East, this figure is 6% (Source: ONS Annual Population Survey).

The negative impact of the cost-of-living crisis extends to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, too.  Those who identify as LGBT face societal discrimination which feeds into employment opportunities and, notably, housing.  Due to a high risk of domestic abuse, LGBT Londoners who are victims of abuse also struggle from a lack of emergency accomodation in the city.  Studies have also shown that the vast majority of homelessness services work with people who identify as LGBT.

Whilst the Mayor takes economic advice from the back of his cereal box, my report suggests that Londoners across the city are suffering.  I urge the Mayor to take steps to address this inequality to help those groups protected under the Equality Act 2010.  I believe that action can be taken on these issues and that inequality is not inevitable.  It is certainly not ‘essential’ as the Mayor suggests.  Boris argues that vulnerable Londoners require inequality and envy to ‘shake’ them to the top, but it is he that needs to be shaken into action.  The evidence and recommendations outlined in my report show that the barriers facing vulnerable groups are not ‘natural’, but structural, and it is time for the Mayor to recognise this and work to make London a city of equal opportunity for all, instead of a city of inevitable and, as he argues, justifiable inequality for the majority.

Today, I launch the report, Falling Further Behind, which looks at the impact the cost-of-living-crisis is having on vulnerable people across London, and those protected by the Equality Act 2010.

The report finds that, despite being one of the wealthiest cities in the world, the most vulnerable people in London are falling further behind the rest: 9 out of 10 disabled Londoners are concerned about how to meet the rising costs of their energy bills; 92% of BAME Londoners worry about affording their travel expenses; and 75% of young people across our capital find it hard to pay their rent.

It’s unacceptable that vulnerable Londoners are bearing the brunt of the policies of the Mayor and the Government at Westminster. Boris is wrong to believe that inequality is natural or essential and this report gives firm recommendations that he can take to close the inequality gap in London.

Today’s report is a rebuttal to the Mayor’s ludicrous claim that vulnerable people in society are ‘cornflakes’ that require inequality and envy to ‘shake’ them to the top. This report outlines just how misguided his ‘cornflake economics’ is and it is he that needs to be shaken into action. On Wednesday, the government will present its budget, four years in to their term, and the truth is stark, as we already know, we are not ‘all in this together’. This report shows that it is those already marginalised who have been hit the hardest by the cuts.

Rest assured, I will continue to challenge the Mayor, as I have always done, to address the inherent inequality across London and this report provides an excellent tool through which to continue the fight.

I would like to thank Areeq Chowdhury and Abena Oppong-Asare in the Labour Group at City Hall for their tremendous work in writing this report, and you can access a full copy of the report by clicking here.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) is advertising for 14 exceptional young people to take on the role of being Apprentices over a 12-month period, starting in January 2014.

Applications close on Monday 21 October, and the assessment day will take place on Wednesday 20 November, with the interviews being held the day after on Thursday 21 November.

You can find more details by clicking here.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining members of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) in the sun to tour the Olympic Park to see how things have progressed since the Olympics.

There is still much to be done, but, one year on from the Olympics, things are progressing very well. Programmes encouraging young people across London to engage in sport are developing well, particularly at the Copper Box Arena, and I’m delighted that access to the Park from my constituency in Hackney is being improved.

It was especially good to meet young apprentices who are benefiting from the LLDC’s work, and training in such things as Business Administration and Construction.

Together with my colleagues on the London Assembly’s Regeneration Committee, I will be watching progress with interest and making sure the programme continues to be scrutinised properly to ensure it is delivered.