Child Poverty – Guest Blog

COLDHURST has been in the headlines this week after a national study was published on child poverty.

I asked Abdul Jabbar, Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, to guest-blog on the issues this has raised as he knows Coldhurst better than most.

He was keen to talk about the challenges and issues around child poverty, what we are doing – and what we need to tackle it more effectively.

Over to Abdul…

Oldham 23.2.16-9424COLDHURST is in my heart and many members of my family call it ‘home’.

I first came to live here when I was 14 years old and I’m very proud to have now represented this area for almost a quarter of a century as a ward member.

During that time I’ve worked among all our communities, probably knocked on every single door at one time, and seen all the kinds of challenges faced by local families.

I felt saddened this week when Coldhurst hit the news after a report by the End Child Poverty group said it has the highest child deprivation rate in England with over 60 per cent of youngsters living ‘below the breadline’.

Saddened, yes. Surprised? No.

I don’t fool myself that Coldhurst and other areas aren’t facing serious challenges because I see it every day around me.

The problems for our least well-off families are unrelenting and getting out of the poverty cycle has never been harder than it is today.

But there is something that is absolutely great about Coldhurst – the people who live there.

Yes, there are problems with crime and anti-social behaviour like fly-tipping, but walk around those streets and you’ll also find many friendly, positive people and a sense of community that you might not see in more affluent areas.

Within Coldhurst I know groups and associations, GPs, headteachers, community workers, voluntary organisations and residents who are all working hard to make the most of what they have.

Our challenge at local and national level is to match that.

There are a lot of factors behind child poverty.

The four-year freeze on social security benefits – amongst other welfare reform measures like the Bedroom tax – has been felt most by the poorest families.

UCREDITOldham was a pilot area for the rollout of Universal Credit which has caused huge problems by leaving families without money for several weeks, forcing many people into making desperate choices between heating the home or eating food.

Many people in Coldhurst do work extremely hard for long hours but due to low skills, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, things are tough. Many are also living in low-quality rented homes that are actually more expensive than social housing.

Worst of all is the fact that children are suffering. Not just because they are vulnerable now, but because if you have a bad start in life then your chances of success in adulthood are not good.

Coldhurst is not alone, however. Oldham has other pockets like this and so do our neighbours in Greater Manchester and big cities like London. End Child Poverty say that more than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

We are trying to address these issues locally on many levels.

The Oldham Education and Skills Commission committed us to improving our education by 2020 and we are on target to achieve this, but it won’t be enough on its own.

We’ve introduced schemes like Warm Homes Oldham to help with fuel poverty, Get Oldham Working to improve employment prospects, Get Oldham Growing to improve health, and the Town Centre Masterplan to deliver significant opportunities in the local economy over the next two decades.

northmoorIn Coldhurst itself we invested £7.5 million to open the fantastic new Northmoor Academy (pictured) in September 2016. This three-form entry primary school on the former Grange school site was designed to cope with rising pressure on school places but also to provide a first-class facility where children can thrive.

As part of being a new Opportunity Area we’re also this week about to start rolling out the ‘Making it REAL’ programme in nurseries in Coldhurst. This is intervention in early years’ settings that targets improving literacy and giving children with disadvantaged backgrounds the language skills they need before they get to school. It involves home visits to support and train parents and group events – all have been proved to raise and sustain literacy standards in other areas. The reason we’re doing this is that it has also been shown that language and literacy skills are the most impactful intervention you can make for any child from a disadvantaged background, so we’re determined to get it right.

That kind of work will and must continue, but it still it won’t be enough on its own.

We have a Government that still refuses to set a target to reduce child poverty. For me, if you refuse to recognise a problem exists, then what hope can we have that you’re actually committed to finding – let alone funding – the solutions?

In families where it is hard to make ends meet, only one person is working, bills are paid late and loan sharks are circling, this is not the message they need to hear.

Last week we were told that more people are in work now than for many years. That might be true, but never have so many also been paid so relatively little and with work often on insecure terms like zero hour contracts.

Local authority’s children’s services are also being reduced to firefighting through Government cuts. Without the money we need to intervene at an early stage through important measures like parenting classes, substance misuse prevention and teenage pregnancy support, the impacts can be simply devastating.

This is also a false economy. If we can only get involved when children reach a crisis point then it will result in much more expensive steps in the long term, like taking young people into care.

In the budget we’re currently finalising for Oldham in 2018/9 we have an £8 million gap in funding for children’s social care services. That is a typical picture nationally and yet remains a problem which Government fails to address.

Making significant progress in living standards, wages and skills for everyone is our goal and it’s why we are championing the Inclusive Growth agenda so hard at Greater Manchester level.

As Deputy Council Leader and a ward member for Coldhurst I will continue my efforts for the people of the area alongside our MP, partners, communities and the voluntary sector, to help wherever we can.

But we also need the Government to finally listen and act.

The thought of having a generation of children suffering like this is heart-breaking and it also leaves me in fear of what legacy it will leave us with as a society.

Abdul Jabbar

Heritage: When to save it – and when you have to let go… 

Hartford Mill 01

OUR HERITAGE is our inheritance as a place and it encompasses many different things.

It can be the physical: like historic buildings, objects, artefacts and documents. It can also be the natural environment: our landscapes, native wildlife and plants. And it can be the intangible: things like our traditions, folklore, music and skills.

We are blessed with some amazing assets and heritage in Oldham.

No doorstep in our borough is more than two miles away from glorious open countryside and we can offer the benefits of town and rural life in one location.

Our pride in our heritage buildings, people and history has also been the foundation of our regeneration.

This is exemplified in the Old Town Hall project which restored an iconic Grade-II listed building at the heart of the town centre with a modern use. In relaunching it we also used heritage symbols and tales – like the owls in Parliament Square and the ‘Oldham Giant’ puppet – to showcase our pride in who we are.

CreditIanBeesley1That’s also why we’ve worked hard to rescue the amazing haul of documents, newspaper clippings and images that were the archives of the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

This week we were able to confirm that they have been saved and I want to thank KPMG, the administrators, for letting us assess the quality of this trove and then transferring it to public ownership.

These archives will be fully accessible to the public when the new Heritage and Arts Centre opens in late 2019/early 2020.

That new facility – which also sees the restoration of the Grade II former library building on Union Street – will tell Oldham’s story from our era as cotton spinning capital of the world to the present day.

P1290127The Chronicle archives will then be alongside the borough’s extensive collection of objects, works of art, heritage and archive information as we open up them all up to public access in an unprecedented way.

That particular heritage tale had a happy ending but it isn’t always straightforward.

Sometimes you must be realistic about when to save something – and when to let it go. One example of the latter is Hartford Mill.

Last week I was concerned to learn that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service had to rescue two teenage girls who got stuck on the roof.

Sadly this isn’t an isolated incident and we’ve been asking serious questions for considerable time about the wisdom of this structure remaining in place.

I genuinely understand the beauty and historic value that many people see in heritage buildings, but this one is a total blight on the Freehold and Chadderton area.

It’s a danger to the public, a magnet for vandalism and anti-social behaviour, and is an awful sight as you travel along the Metrolink line. Would you really want to look out of the window of your family home at that every day?

The mill is privately owned and it’s clear that the security and safety of the site is costly and challenging.

In 2004 Oldham Council had secured an option to buy the mill but when the government pulled the plug on Housing Market Renewal (HMR) we could no longer proceed. The owner has since looked at conversion options and in 2015 we agreed to grant an option to transfer council-owned land adjoining the mill to him so he could offer a larger parcel of land that might be more attractive to developers.

Little has happened since then, sadly. Renovating Hartford Mill would cost huge sums of money and who will spend that on a property with no apparent practical use? The situation has become an impasse – and a huge frustration to local residents – and it has to end.

Freehold Metro 02

That’s why Oldham Council is now about to submit an application to demolish the listed building. Because of its status this is unlikely to be an easy or straightforward process, but it’s clearly the best solution for the community.

I understand the strong emotions cases like this can arouse but the prospects of ever turning Hartford Mill into housing, offices or public amenities are extremely remote.

The private sector has brought forward no such proposals in two decades. Now it is time to think about the future – and to let it go.

Jean

Better roads for Oldham – £6.2m investment starts now

THE LATEST wintry weather is a stark reminder of the challenges we face in keeping local roads to a good standard of repair.

Ask any Council Leader about this subject and I would confidently bet that most will tell you that potholed roads is the top cause of the complaints they get from the public.

And I do sympathise – I am a driver after all!…

I can’t deny I get as irked as anyone else does after driving over one – although it is also true that nobody ever notices driving over roads where no bumps occur, for obvious reasons.

To try and address the pothole problem we’ve announced a new £6.2 million investment programme in Oldham’s roads this week.

This new money is funding a 12-month programme of works to get more streets into shape with a high-quality and durable surface that supports residents, motorists and business and keeps the borough moving.

This is really positive news, but we’ve also got to be realistic about the scale of the problem.

OMBC HighwaysRoad surfacing is a constant ongoing battle and the significant funding cuts from Government leave us with far less to spend on it than we would ideally put in.

In recent years we’ve also had some very harsh winters and wet summers which have had a significant impact on the 856 kilometres of roads we maintain.

This – and increased traffic levels – means many road surfaces are in need of repair or resurfacing. That £6.2 million commitment means specialist teams are out on the roads as you read this right now and getting on with that job.

There’s two key issues at play when it comes to road surfacing.

Firstly, there just isn’t enough Government funding to help local authorities like ourselves get on top of the problem.  Last year a survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance estimated that councils are fixing 1.75 million potholes a year, which is one every 19 seconds, and sounds impressive. But the scale of the issue is such that the Local Government Association believes there is an astronomical national funding gap of £12 billion to be plugged and it would still take more than a decade – even with all that money provided – just to catch up with the backlog.

Although we’re not unique in terms of the funding challenges we face, a second issue for Oldham lies in the topographical nature of where we live.

Snow and ice causes the vast majority of pothole cracks and are much more likely to be on higher ground.  That’s because the higher you are, the colder it tends to be, which explains why the Saddleworth Moors always appear to be hit first. Height is also crucial because just a small change in temperature can mean the difference between rain and snow (which melts at 0 degrees C or above) and the Highways team tell me that 99 per cent of our borough lies at least at a height of 100 metres above sea level.

POTHOLES2We know it is vital that we continue to invest in our key infrastructure, like the road network.

In addition to this new investment we’re continuing to give overall priority to our main roads (A and B roads). These are our Priority Routes because the majority of the public use them each day – and you can help us to keep them well maintained.

We operate a 24 Hour Repair Promise on these roads (you may have noticed the road signs indicating this) so, if you see a defect, then please report it to us so we can take action immediately. Find out more here.

Obviously, we cannot go out driving every stretch of our roads checking for defects like this every day, so we rely on your help as our ‘eyes and ears’ by reporting problems as they arise.

Finally, I want to stress that this £6.2million investment is new money and it is in addition to the regular and scheduled work that our Highways Team are already carrying out, such as other reactive pothole repairs.

You can find out more about which roads will be improved in the first three months of this programme here.

Please do #yourbit and report any pothole problems to us online.

Jean

 

 

Stay well – and act wisely

stay-well1IT’S BEEN no surprise to hear a throng of sneezing, coughing and hoarse throats back at work this week.

Like many others, I also fell victim to the ‘lurgy’ over the festive season but the numbers affected nationally – and the impact on our NHS – have been significant in recent weeks.

I’d like to personally thank all staff that worked so hard over the holidays with the pressures mounting at hospitals up and down the country.

And let’s not forget our own Oldham Council staff who have also gone the extra mile (literally!) in hazardous conditions ensuring roads were continuously gritted through a prolonged cold weather snap, plus our refuse collectors who also did a fantastic job picking up all that extra Yuletide waste.

Every winter sees several strains of flu doing the rounds and this year things seem to have been complicated further by so-called H3N2 – better known as ‘Aussie flu’.

Flu symptoms can come on very quickly but, for most of us, following the tried and trusted advice to drink lots of fluids, rest up in bed and take paracetamol/ibuprofen usually does the trick.

However for some people, especially the very old, very young or people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, flu can be deadly and that’s why it’s more important now than ever that we all take the right decisions about what help we really need when we get ill.

Adults over 65, pregnant women or those with underlying health conditions are advised to get a free flu jab, and a free nasal spray is also available to children aged two to eight.

But with more people turning up at GP surgeries with symptoms or being admitted to hospital with flu, we must all try to act responsibly and avoid unnecessarily clogging surgeries and A&E departments to help the NHS prioritise those most in need of care.

staywell2At the first sign of illness, even just a cough or a cold, you should act quickly by talking to your local pharmacist for professional advice or visiting www.nhs.uk

Please also remember that 999 is for life-threatening emergencies only.

If you need medical help fast – but it’s not a 999 emergency – then call NHS 111 for clinical advice, assessment and signposting to the most appropriate treatment.

Please also do #yourbit if you have symptoms of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with other people, washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and cleaning surfaces regularly to stop the spread of flu. And, of course, check on any vulnerable neighbours or relatives that you have as temperatures plummet and risks rise.

newfoodbankAnother place that has also been busy over the holiday season has been Oldham Foodbank.

Their latest data paints a bleak picture of the struggles local people are continuing to experience.

From January 1, 2017 to New Year’s Eve in 2017, Oldham Foodbank provided 7,078 three-day emergency supplies to local people in crisis – a figure that is up substantially from 5,554 in 2016.

Of that number, 2,425 packages went to children and Oldham Foodbank say issues with benefit payments account for 70 per cent of all their referrals: well above the national average of 43 per cent.

The unpaid work done by volunteers at Oldham Foodbank is simply inspirational and their running costs each year are £6,000 for operating a van, picking up and distributing food, and overheads like electricity and insurance.

This really shouldn’t be necessary in 2018 – and in one of the richest economies of the world(!) – but please visit their website here if you can offer any help.

Just over one week into 2018 and it’s again palpably clear that this is a Government that needs to focus on the ‘day job’ more – not just Brexit.

We deserve a Cabinet and top team capable of tackling the real problems making life miserable for so many people – like the underfunding of our NHS and the distress caused by welfare reform policies – but I see nothing in this week’s reshuffle to give me hope that we’ll be seeing any significant change in approach.

kquinnFinally, I must mention the tragic death of Kieran Quinn, Tameside Council Leader, on Christmas Day.

This news came as such a huge shock to everyone involved in regional politics and my heart goes out to Susan, his wife, and his family and friends.

He was held in high regard across Greater Manchester by politicians of all parties, by fellow trade unionists, by his Tameside and GM political and officer colleagues and by the residents he served as a committed Council Leader and Ward Councillor.

He will be sorely missed.

Jean