News from Kensington and Chelsea's Labour Councillors

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AN IMPORTANT VICTORY

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The Labour Group’s longstanding campaign to insist that the Council pays at least the London Living Wage to its employees has finally achieved an important success.

At a meeting to discuss the Council’s Pay Policy statement on 22 February, it was revealed that only seven members of staff do not receive pay at or above the London Living Wage. Following robust interventions from Labour’s Leader Cllr Robert Atkinson and the Chief Whip Cllr Judith Blakeman, it was agreed that no one at the Council will be paid below the London Living Wage from April 2017. Although declining to issue a formal press statement that RBKC is now a London Living Wage employer, this bodes well for the Council’s employees in the future.

This follows on from K+C Labour’s significant success in achieving at least the London Living Wage from 2016 for all employees of the cleaning company OCS who clean the Council’s housing estates (seen below with Labour councillors campaigning for better pay in 2013). Residents’ Associations are already reporting significant improvements in the cleanliness of their estates.


24 February 2017

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LABOUR SEEKS TO SAVE SUCCESSFUL FGM PILOT PROJECT

Cllr Harrison Littler spoke eloquently at the January Council meeting to urge the Council not to cease funding the excellent Tri-borough pilot project that protects local residents from Female Genital Mutilation.

He thanked council officers, hospital staff, social workers and community activists and advocates who worked together to create this brilliant project. Their successful work, nominated for an award from the Royal College of Midwives, is a credit to the London Boroughs involved and a model for other multi-disciplinary teams to base themselves on.

The practice of FGM – the ritual cutting and removal of external female genitalia - is widely considered to be an issue which predominantly affects the Somali community, but the reality is that it is a much wider problem, affecting women from dozens of African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. During the brief pilot period, women visiting the FGM clinics were not just Somali... they also identified as Egyptian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Gambian, Kurdish, Malaysian, Nigerian, Saudi and Sudanese.

FGM is therefore a much more significant problem for inner London boroughs than people may think. In the Kensington and Chelsea alone, it is estimated that 1644 residents have undergone FGM – across the Tri-Borough area, this counts for a staggering 2% of all female residents. In the last 10 years, women who themselves are survivors are survivors of FGM have accounted for around 10,000 births in our hospitals.

This project recognizes each of those births as an opportunity to support the women involved with the complications they may suffer in pregnancy and labour as a result, as well as intervening to prevent the practice affecting further generations. The project is premised on the fact that midwives are best placed to identify and work with women who have undergone the practice. The project views, without stigma or prejudice, the girls born to these women as being most at risk of FGM in the future.

The key strength of the project is in its scope and wrap-around support.

- It involves therapeutic services and emotional support, acknowledging the trauma associated with the practice.

- It has brought together a wide range of specialists to focus their energies and expertise, establishing innovative specialised assessments and protocols for intervention and support, such as FGM specific mental health tools.

- This learning has been cascaded to wider medical teams in hospitals, GPs and teachers

- The men in families have been involved by male project members, and the MOPAC (Metropolitan Police) evaluation describes how men, "who have never discussed the subject of FGM in their lives" were given an opportunity to share their views and be challenged on them

- Crucially, the project has had the support of community advocates – very much the linchpin – that have literally and figuratively held the hands of women affected

- In some cases, the FGM clinics set up came across families who were surprised to learn that practicing FGM in this country is against the law. Many other families who were identified as ambivalent to the practice were reported as agreeing that they would not now want to see their daughters cut

The hardest and most expensive work of trailblazing, establishing teams and clinics and building up innovative assessments and tools has been done. In the longer term, the same outcomes can be delivered more effectively, at a lower cost per case.

Following the Council's decision to cease funding the pilot, scraps of additional funding are being pulled together in an ad hoc and piecemeal fashion with two consequences: first, clinic staff and the community live in uncertainty looking to a shifting horizon of "when the funding runs out". Secondly, core parts of the project unable to secure funding are being cut, starting with the male staff trained to work with the men in families, who are often the decision makers in FGM.

Without mainstream funding, this excellent work will wither on the vine yet it is a vital part of safeguarding children that deserves a proper budget from the Council. Kensington and Chelsea ("the richest borough in the universe") cannot excuse itself from this responsibility.

"The Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group of Councillors regret the decision of Cllr Andrew Lomas to cross the floor and become a Liberal Democrat councillor. We believe that in the circumstances he should present himself for re-election to the voters of Colville Ward. The residents of that ward have experimented with Liberal Democrat councillors in the past and firmly rejected them at the last Council election only two years ago. To respect the democratic process, they should be asked whether they stand by that decision."

10 October 2016

RBKC Labour Councillors and Estate Cleaners win London Living Wage Victory

For five years, Kensington and Chelsea Labour Councillors have repeatedly put forward resolutions and amendments asking that the 71 Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) estate cleaners employed by the Council's sub-contractors OCS be paid the London Living Wage and that the Council should respect its workers by paying them a wage sufficient to live and raise families within the capital. This the Council resolutely refused to do even after Boris Johnson, then London Mayor, and neighbouring boroughs urged all decent employers to do so.

Surprisingly RBKC, "the richest local authority in Europe" pleaded lack of cash "due to government cuts" whilst simultaneously sitting on obscene levels of reserves and racking up underspends year after year on its expenditure.

When the cleaners (paid only £7.18 an hour), supported by their GMB Union, went on strike twice in 2013, Labour Councillors joined their picket lines to show support for the dispute.

As Cllr Judith Blakeman told the local press during the dispute, "such low pay makes it impossible for workers to live in London and bring up their families without recourse to welfare top-ups such as housing benefit" and that it was a disgrace that the Council doesn't require their contractors to pay the LLW.

The Council response was "the Council has discussed the LLW and does not support it because it is a less effective way of tackling household poverty than the social security system".

In other words, the Council were happy for the taxpayer to continue subsidising poverty-wage contractors. Cllr Blakeman and others lobbied the TMO Board and detailed the experience of the cleaner who walks 3 miles each way daily from home to clean a TMO estate because he couldn't afford both to pay fares and feed his family.

But this week, the Council has finally relented and announced they and the TMO will pay the cleaners the £9.40p per hour LLW from 1 October 2016.

Labour Leader Cllr Robert Atkinson commented "this belated change of heart must be welcomed by us all. The right for a fair day's pay for work well done is fundamental for a decent society. The borough cannot function without a stable and happy workforce. It's just a pity that the council took so long to do the decent thing".

1 October 2016