Children & Families

Chuka speaks up for local school building projects in Parliament

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

This week, Chuka spoke in an adjournment debate in Parliament on the Liberal Democrat – Conservative government’s cuts to school building projects, making the case for the government to reverse its decision and for the crucial projects at Dunraven, Bishop Thomas Grant and La Retraite to go ahead.
You can watch Chuka’s speech here (it starts at 52m20s in).

To read the speech in full, follow this link

In our area, La Retraite and Bishop Thomas Grant secondary schools, which were due to benefit from new, state of the art buildings, have seen their BSF projects stopped. As a result La Retraite will remain the only school with post-16 provision in Lambeth without purpose-built sixth form buildings.

The other project at Dunraven School – as one of a handful of ‘sample’ projects nationally – has been put in doubt and placed under review. It is crucial that the government announces the time scale and terms of this review, which it has completely failed to do so far. Chuka has tabled a number of Parliamentary questions to Ministers seeking clarification on this for constituents.

News on the Child Trust Fund

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Established by the Labour government in 2005, the Child Trust Fund was a savings and investment account available for all children at birth, receiving £250 free to start their account and a further £250 when they reach the ages of seven and eleven.

Families could add to the fund over time, building up a ‘nest egg’ for young people when they leave education to give them a good start in their adult lives. For parents who did not claim the £250 and open a Child Trust Fund when their child was born, a ‘stakeholder’ account was be set up on behalf of the child by the government allowing parents to claim the fund later.

A total of 7,045 children in the Streatham constituency now have Child Trust Fund accounts. These families along with many others were dealt a harsh blow when, within weeks of the general election, the new LibDem – Tory coalition government announced that it would abolish the fund. The money already paid into the fund will still be accessible when a child turns 18, but from January 2011 the government will stop paying into the scheme.

However, 2,581 children in Streatham are yet to have a Child Trust Fund opened on their behalf by their parents. For children in this position, a ‘stakeholder’ account is set up and managed on their behalf by the government.

Chuka has pursued the full details of the impact that the Child Trust Fund’s abolition will have on the people of Streatham. He submitted a written question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask whether parents and guardians would be able to take control of stakeholder Child Trust Fund accounts after January. The reply from the Treasury confirmed that such accounts will indeed remain under the full control of parents or guardians, who if they wish can choose to transfer the account to a different financial provider or type of account. The money remains the child’s and he or she cannot withdraw it until they turn 18.

Lib Dem-Tory Budget cuts will hit local families hardest

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Chuka Umunna, Member of Parliament for Streatham, has slammed the Liberal Democrat – Conservative government’s Budget for hitting public sector workers and local families hardest, failing to address the issue of youth unemployment and failing to guarantee the future of vital local school building projects.

The measures announced by Chancellor George Osborne included a cut in child benefit in real terms, the abolition of the Health in Pregnancy Grant for new mums and Child Tax Credits set aside for parents of new-born babies.

According to HMRC statistics, last year 25,160 childen from 14,735 families in Streatham claimed child benefit and will now lose out as a result of its payments being frozen.

During the recession in the early 1990s, unemployment in Streatham was 56% higher than when Britain emerged from recession under Labour earlier this year. It is feared that the new government’s approach, in line with that adopted by the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s, could lead to higher unemployment.

The independent body set up by the new government to review economic policy, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), has responded to the plans in the Budget by revising down its employment predictions by 100,000 and downgrading its growth forecast for next year from 2.6% to 2.3%.

Because public sector employment is disproportionately high locally, our area will suffer more heavily than others from the public sector pay freeze announced in the Budget. In Lambeth, public sector employment accounts for 36% compared to 23% in London as a whole.

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor failed to outline any measures to tackle Youth unemployment to replace the Future Jobs Fund which the Liberal Democrat Conservative government has axed.

Last week, Mr Umunna asked Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP why the Future Jobs Fund had been abolished before its effectiveness had been evaluated and called for a fuller debate on the project once the information is available.

Youth unemployment in the Streatham constituency, which is demographically one of the youngest areas in the UK, has increased by 6.5% over the past year. In contrast, youth unemployment fell by 27.3% in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Witney constituency.

The Chancellor did not disclose whether local school building projects would still be going ahead, but announced that the Department for education would see its budget cut by 25%.

School building projects at three local schools, La Retraite, Dunraven, and Bishop Thomas Grant, which were planned under the former government have been thrown into doubt by the Liberal Democrat Conservative coalition which is yet to clarify its intentions.

The Budget was also silent on whether funds to improve local housing will be forthcoming.

The rise in VAT announced by the Chancellor from 17.5% to 20% will disproportionately affect those on low incomes.

Only weeks ago during the general election, Liberal Democrats campaigned against what they described as a ‘Tory VAT bombshell’ and in favour of “fairer taxes”.

However, VAT is a regressive form of taxation: according to the Office of National Statistics the richest 10% pay one in every 25 pounds of their income in VAT, whilst the poorest 10% pay one in every seven, so the VAT rise will hit the poorest much harder than the wealthy.

As Lambeth is the nineteenth most deprived local authority in England, the VAT increase will be felt disproportionately in areas like ours.

Chuka Umunna MP said: “This Budget places the bulk of the government’s deficit reduction programme on the shoulders of the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Cutting Housing and Child Benefit will disproportionately affect areas like ours.

“I am also deeply concerned about the impact of today’s Budget on local jobs. The government has adopted the same approach as the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s which led to such terrible unemployment and deprivation here.

“I find it shocking that the Liberal Democrats, whose leader visited my own constituency recently claiming to stand for fairness, have sold out on their beliefs in supporting this Budget and sanctioning the devastating affect that it will have on our area.”

“There is real danger of a double-dip recession and ¬by cutting too fast the coalition will hit growth. President Obama’s letter to the G20 last week urged governments to keep in place spending measures to help economies recover from the recession, but the Lib Dem Tory coalition has ignored this advice.”

On the Building Schools for the Future Programme, Mr Umunna said:

“The fact the Chancellor did not explain what the government’s plans are for vital Building Schools for the Future projects at the same time as imposing a 25% cut in the education budget will only serve to increase uncertainly among local parents, students and teachers.”

“I will continue to put pressure on the Liberal Democrat – Conservative government, demanding answers and making the case for these crucial projects going ahead as the previous Labour government planned.”

The charity Save the Children said:

“A 20% VAT rate means that the poorest parents will see their VAT bill rise to at least £1,600 a year – affecting already overstretched budgets – and driving some into the arms of loan sharks”.

Don’t Judge My Family

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Yesterday the London director of Blue State Digital, Mathew McGregor launched a campaign against David Cameron’s proposed marriage tax allowance: Don’t Judge My Family. As has been repeatedly pointed out, this allowance is unfair and in some instances actually disadvantages the least well off in society.

David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance doesn’t even benefit all married couples, the threshold is set at such a level that if both people in the marriage work then the likelihood is that they will not be eligible for the tax break.

To support or find out more about the campaign against David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance go to the website for Don’t Judge My Family.

Video: Sunnyhill Sure Start Centre

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

In this video, Chuka discusses Labour’s delivery for children and families in the Streatham constituency outside Sunnyhill School and Children’s Centre, of which he is a governor.

Last month, the Prime Minister and Ed Balls visited Streatham to open the country’s 3,500th centre.

To find out more about the Sure Start programme and the difference it has made locally, follow this link.

Child Trust Funds

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Child Trust Funds were introduced in 2005 and any child born in or after September 2002 are eligible.

They offer a voucher worth £250 to open a savings and investment account which the child can access when they reach the age of 18.

As well as providing all parents a way of saving for the children’s future, the funds give youngsters a ‘nest egg’ for when they reach adulthood and help teach children about personal finance and saving.

A total of 7,045 children in the Streatham constituency now have Child Trust Fund accounts set up, although a further 2,581 vouchers have been left unclaimed by parents. For parents who do not claim the £250 and open a Child Trust Fund, an account is set up on behalf of the child so parents can subsequently claim the Child Trust Fund if they have not done so already.

Further information about setting up a Child Trust Fund for an eligible child can be found on the Child Trust Fund website, along with a list of providers for managing the account.

Record numbers claim Child Trust Fund in Streatham but thousands are still left unclaimed

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Record numbers of Streatham parents have claimed the government’s Child Trust Fund, a savings and investment account available for all children at birth, receiving £250 free to start their account and a further £250 when their child reaches seven and eleven.

A total of 7,045 children in the Streatham constituency now have Child Trust Fund accounts set up, although a further 2,581 vouchers have been left unclaimed by parents.

For parents who do not claim the £250 and open a Child Trust Fund, an account is set up on behalf of the child so parents can subsequently claim the Child Trust Fund if they have not done so already.

To claim the fund and open an account for their child, parents should log on to http://www.childtrustfund.gov.uk/ for further details and a list of providers for managing the account.

Child Trust Funds were introduced by the government in 2005 and apply to all children born after 1 Sept 2002. They are designed to provide a ‘nest egg’ for young people when they leave education.

Families can add to the fund, and given the growth the investment makes over eighteen years adding as little as £10 per month means the fund will be worth as much as £4,500 on maturity. If the maximum amount is added each month, it could eventually be worth as much as £37,000.

While the funds are initially set up with a total of £250 when a baby is born, they are topped up again by the government at the age of seven. In September of last year, as the first beneficiaries of Child Trust Funds reached seven the government began topping up the accounts, whilst making a further £250 payment being to children of low-income families and in care.

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives opposed the introduction of Child Trust Funds. Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has pledged to scrap the funds.

Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Streatham said: “Child Trust Funds are a great way to save for our children’s future. As well as giving youngsters a ‘nest egg’ for when they reach adulthood, they help teach children about personal finance and the benefits of saving.

“I urge all parents in Streatham who have not yet claimed their £250 and set
up an account to do so.”

Shout out for a Sure Start

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The children’s charity 4Children has launched a campaign to protect the Sure Start programme, which has the support of the public services union Unison and Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls, along with Chuka.

While Labour is committed to the continuation of this well loved and hard fought-for programme, the Conservatives refuse to say whether or not they would protect the service.

‘Shout Out for a Sure Start’ aims to show how much support there is for the Sure Start programme among parents and in the wider community and demonstrate that attempts to make cuts will be met with firm resistance.

The Sure Start local programmes have been one of Labour’s flagship initiatives – before 1997 there were no Sure Start children centres, and last week – 12 years later – the Prime Minister and Ed Balls visited Streatham to open the country’s 3,500th centre. These centres are so important because they bring a variety of services under one roof, meaning that parents don’t have to navigate a number of disparate institutions in order to provide for their child’s wellbeing.

Ed Balls has referred to the Sure Start initiative as being a “new pillar of our welfare state for the 21st Century”. Sure Start provides childcare, healthcare, parenting advice, family support and opportunities to get back into work or training. Currently the service offers 12.5 hours of free early years childcare per week to children between 3-4 which will soon increase to 15 hours per week. Lambeth is one of thirty-four ‘pathfinder’ local authorities that is providing this service to all children between 3-4.

If you want to support your local Sure Start centre then you can sign the 4Children pledge and Ed Balls’ petition to Save our Sure Start. If you feel particularly strongly about one of Streatham’s ten excellent Sure Start centres then you could write to 4Children letting them know about your experience.

Anne Longfield OBE, the chief executive of 4Children, commented:

“Sure Start Children’s Centres are providing real help to families across the country but often this goes unsung. That is why we want to build a mass movement of people to ‘Shout out for a Sure Start’.

“We also know that there are families who have not yet discovered their local Children’s Centre so we hope to spread the word still further and inspire more parents to find out how their Sure Start Children’s Centre could support them through all the ups and downs of family life.”

Global Children’s Panel

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Recently, Chuka took part in an event with Save the Children’s Global Children’s Panel at Dunraven School in Streatham.

The panel brings together young people aged between 12 and 19 from around the world, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK. Its members have taken part in events across the country, highlighting the issue of child poverty and making sure children’s voices are listened to.

Joining with students from Dunraven School, the Global Children’s Panel engaged in a question and answer session in which Chuka took part, focusing on issues facing children in the UK and overseas.

In the video above, members of the panel discuss their views and aspirations during their visit to Streatham. Follow this link to find out more about the crucially important work which Save the Children does.

Prime Minister visits Streatham to open 3,500th Sure Start Centre

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Hitherfield Primary School and Children’s Centre in Streatham yesterday to open Britain’s 3,500th Sure Start Centre, accompanied by Health Secretary Andy Burnham and Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls.

The Sure Start centre is the tenth to have been opened across the Streatham parliamentary constituency, providing childcare, parenting advice, healthcare, family support and helping parents get back into work or training.

By coincidence, Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham, attended Hitherfield nursery in his early years.

The Prime Minister used his visit to Hitherfield to launch new plans to boost childcare and maternity care. The measures include providing expectant parents with a named contact at a local Sure Start Children’s Centre and appointing a panel of specialists to advise on food in nurseries.

He also announced a boost in free childcare for three and four year-olds, increasing to 15 hours per week, as well as a consultation on giving pregnant mothers an assessment of health and social care needs, risks and choices by the twelfth week of pregnancy.

Commenting, Mr Umunna said: “As a governor of Sunnyhill Children’s Centre and speaking to parents on the doorstep, I know the real difference which Sure Start Centres make for families locally.

“As well as ensuring children get the best start in life, the centres help support parents’ aspirations through training and employment.

“I am immensely proud of our ten Sure Start Children’s Centres and that the Prime Minister came to Streatham to open the country’s 3,500th centre. This is an incredible achievement considering that in 1997, there were no Sure Start Centres at all.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “Over the last 10 years we’ve been building children centres in every community. It’s the revolution that we started 10 years ago with children centres spreading to the whole of the country.