Where are our priorities?

June 29, 2017 7:45 PM

"The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

Mahatma Ghandi

The last 3 weeks should, I believe, be a wake-up call for our society and in particular politicians. Locally and nationally we have been confronted by some hard hitting truths about how we are failing the poorest in our communities.

Grenfell Tower Atrocity

On the night of Monday 14th June at least 80 people lost their lives, over 70 were injured and many more list their homes and everything in them. Worse still we may never know the full extent of the loss of life because it has proved extremely difficult to identify how many people were living in the block due to sub-letting and overcrowding, or were visiting friends in the block.

As investigations have taken place it has become clear that the cladding added to Grenfell Tower, at least in part, part make it more visually acceptable admidst its more exclusive, luxury apartment neighbours in Kensington is what enabled the fire to spread so quickly and cause so much destruction. We have also learnt that for just £5,000 more a fire-retardant cladding could have been installed instead of what was used. There were no sprinklers in the building and there was just one access staircase that provided a way in and out of the building. No doubt Grenfell's luxury neighbours have far more installed to ensure safety in case of an emergency.

There were a multitude of failings at every level of government that contributed to enabling this atrocity to happen but ultimately I believe it comes does to this: the poorest in our communities are an easy target. They are less lively to vote and they are less likely to complain - frankly they have more pressing issues to worry about like how to make the next rent or bill payment or how to ensure there is food on the table each night. Most of all they are part of our community that many would prefer to forget about.

Surrey Uncovered

The Grenfell Tower fire highlighted the deep inequality that lives side by side. A few days earlier Surrey Community Foundation put out its latest edition of Surrey Uncovered which lays bare the inequality that exists in leafy, affluent Surrey. As an example:

  • In 17 neighbourhoods in Surrey 30% or over of children live in poverty
  • There was an 11% increase in homelessness applications between 2013/14 and 2014/15 and it's continuing to rise
  • In 30 neighbourhoods in Surrey 20% of residents are living with a long-term illness or disability
  • 10% of children (that's 22,460) in Surrey are living in poverty. Two thirds of these live in working households.

ONS Data on Persistent Poverty

Finally, on Tuesday this week the Office of National Statistics published a report indicating that across the UK 4.6 million people are living in persistent poverty.

It is quite clear that more needs to be done to tackle inequality in our nation and in our communities.

What Can We Do In Guildford?

Through my work as a school governor and a Borough councillor, the three most prevalent types of poverty I have have seen in Guildford are: child poverty, mental poverty and poverty of opportunity.

Almost one in every three children in some areas of Guildford live in poverty, a statistic which never ceases to shock me. These children are less likely to succeed in education, will have lover income jobs and their children are more likely to suffer poverty themselves.

We must provide:

  • high quality education for all from the earliest age;
  • financial, emotional and practical support for families who need it; and
  • mentoring for young people to support them as they move towards adult life.

More people are living alone than ever before. The consequential loneliness creates issues for mental and physical health, regardless of age. We need to recognise mental health as an issue as big as physical health. As a community and individuals we need to be more aware of those around us - our neighbours, the quiet person in our workplace, or our teenager's friend - and be prepared to help.

Many young adults are being squeezed out of Guildford because they can't afford to live here. As a result they miss the opportunities our thriving tech, business and creative industries provide. This is poverty of opportunity. We must act on our local need for quality, affordable housing, adopt new approaches to renting and tackling rogue landlords, and consider innovative ideas to tackle our infrastructure issues.

Guildford's Liberal Democrat team and I are committed to working alongside local residents to overcome and deal with these issues. With government funding decreasing and local councils being asked to do much more with much less money and it won't be easy. However we believe that together with residents, local community groups and charities, and local government we can ensure that these issues are tackled and that a better, brighter future is ensured for all.