General

Chuka’s South London Press Column: Register to Vote & Make Your Voice Heard

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Chuka Umunna MP wrote the following column for the August 29 edition of the South London Press:

Politics will shortly fill the news again. The Scottish referendum is now in less than three weeks and, after that, the Political Parties’ annual conferences will dominate our TV screens. Politicians from all political Parties will be making their pitch to the electorate, and fighting for your votes at the general election.

But if not enough people locally are registered to vote, you will not get to have your voice heard and have your say.

For areas like my constituency of Streatham, with so much potential but more than our fair share of challenges, it is essential that politics works for our community, and using your right to vote is one of the best ways to ensure this happens.

Recent electoral commission figures showed that less than a year to go to the General Election, 7.5 million of the electorate will be unable to vote. The disparity between who is and isn’t registered to vote is concerning. Those who make up our BME communities are less likely to be registered to vote than the average, as are those aged 18-24, and those in the private rented sector.

The government is rushing to introduce Individual Electoral Registration – which will require each to individual to register, rather than the head of the household (as is the case currently). The government’s figures from their own pilots have suggested that nearly 9 million of the current electorate face falling off the register, because they can’t be matched with government-held data. It is the same groups which are currently under-represented that are most susceptible to this drop-off.

It’s only natural to think that those who aren’t registered to vote are insufficiently served by government – when the LibDems and Conservatives in government put tuition fees up, which impacts disproportionately on the young, or when the government sets its face against sensible action proposed by Labour to improve tenancy arrangements for private renters.

As everyone seems to live busier and busier lives, active involvement in politics can be difficult, and I know that Party politics has to do more to attract people to get involved. Whilst I don’t think people are become less political, they are becoming less party political. But if you don’t vote at a General Election because you are not registered, you miss out on having a say as to how our country is run.

Politics matters and does make a difference. Just look at any of the Sure Start centres in my constituency, there because of a Labour government, or the minimum wage introduced when Labour last came to power because we believed it was unacceptable that some people in our society could be paid £1 for an hour of work (we were prepared to push it through despite what the other Parties said).

I know that a lot of trust was broken at the last election, particularly when the LibDems broke their promises to the electorate on tuition fees and VAT, and the Conservatives with their top-down reorganisation of the NHS. However, I think it is incredibly important that we don’t let that put people off politics completely, or take it to mean that politics does not achieve anything.

When politics has the potential to make an enormous difference to people’s lives, and to our local community as a whole, I believe it is absolutely vital that we all have a say over what politics does. As a community, we can’t avoid for our voice to be missing from the debate.

You can register to vote online at gov.uk/register-to-vote or you call your local Borough for more information. If you are in Lambeth electoral services can be contacted on 020 7926 2254.


100 years since Britain entered the First World War

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Today it is one hundred years to the day since Britain entered the First World War.

So many young soldiers, sailors and other service personnel sacrificed so much in service to our country, and fought so bravely in a conflict that has given us much of our modern understanding of the horrors of war.

Locally, we will be thinking in particular of those in whose memory the Streatham War Memorial, and other memorials in the local area, were built. And we will remember those from across Britain and across the world – from the Indian sub-continent, to Africa, Australia and the Caribbean – who fought for Britain in our nation’s hour of need.

We will remember those who fell, and those who fought and lived on with the memory of having fought. We will remember the suffering and sacrifice of those on the home front – of those who worked in the mines, in the factories, and on the land, and who cared for the wounded and for those returning home.

100 years of time having passed offers us an important moment in which to remember the history of our nation, the First World War and how it transformed our country. It is an important opportunity for our whole nation to reflect on the lessons of those who went before us, and to pay tribute to them.

The freedom that so many fought for, endures today, and we must never forget their heroism, valour and sacrifice.

Chuka

Chuka Umunna MP
Member of Parliament for Streatham
covering Streatham and parts of Clapham, Balham, Tulse Hill and Brixton

 

 

Justice for Cherry Groce: Questions to Chris Grayling

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Chuka tabled the following questions to Chris Grayling, who as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will make the decision on whether to grant legal aid to the family of Cherry Groce for their representation at her inquest. The questions were named for answer on Thursday 10th April (yesterday) but no answer has been received. 

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, when he expects to have concluded his consideration of whether to grant legal aid to the family of Cherry Groce for their representation at the inquest her death.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will grant the request by the family of Cherry Groce for legal aid for their representations at the inquest into her death, and if he will make a statement.

BBC London on Streatham High Road: Motorists can be fined despite parking within restrictions

Monday, February 24th, 2014

BBC London filmed in Streatham on Friday after Chuka complained that motorists are being deliberately hit with penalty fines by Boris’ Transport for London (TfL) even whilst parked in London loading bays for just five minutes – despite signs displaying a maximum loading time of 20 minutes

Click on this link to watch the BBC London video, which features constituents and Doolittle’s Pet Store, as well as Chuka.

For more information, see the blog post Umunna: Drivers Getting Duped on Boris’ Watch.

Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

I wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas! 2013 has not been the easiest year as the economy recovers but, as ever, our area’s resilience and sense of community has shone through. As ever, it has been an honour and privilege to serve my home town and I will continue to work as hard as I can for everyone in 2014.

Warmest wishes,

Chuka

Works on Streatham High Road Starting Today

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Transport for London has appointed CVU Highway Services to undertake the urban realm improvements works, including the removal of the existing central reservation on the High Road, between Leigham Court Road and Woodbourne Avenue.

The plan for the improvement works is for them to run for 15 weeks from 25 November 2013 or until the work is completed, depending on the weather conditions. These will be carried out in phases taking place between 7:30 and 15:00, Monday to Friday for works on the southbound carriageway and between 10:00 to 17:00 for work on the northbound carriageway.

TfL say they are firmly committed to minimising disruption, but that for safety of road users and personnel traffic management measures will be put in place during the works and temporary lane closures will be required.

To contact TfL for further information or an update during the delivery of these works you can contact TFLs Streets Customer Services department on 0343 222 1234 or email enquire {at} tfl.gov(.)uk

 

Video: Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre Opening Today – Chuka Umunna & Lib Peck

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Chuka and Lambeth Council Leader Lib Peck today toured Streatham’s brand new ice and leisure centre, which opened to the public this morning.

Beth Tweddle MBE, the Dancing on Ice star and Olympic medallist  will officially open the new Ice and Leisure centre at a gala event on December 10th .

 

 

Speech: Race, class and social mobility in today’s Britain

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Chuka Umunna Speech at Herbert Smith Freehills – 31 October 2013 

Introduction

As ever, it’s great to be back here at Herbert Smith.

You know – I often talk about my time here. My experience here – working with businesses of all sizes – has proved invaluable in my current role as Shadow Business Secretary.

It’s also good to speak here during Black History Month.

It is worth reflecting that when I started my legal career here in 2002, I was one of just three black fee earners.

So I’m pleased to return today to find Herbert Smith has made good progress in increasing the number of black fee earners but there is obviously more room for improvement.

And I’m delighted to be speaking to a room full of black City professionals.  There was a time when the numbers of black City professionals would barely have filled this room – when we all knew each other so well because there were so few of us.  That is no longer the case and that says to me that despite all the obstacles black people have faced, we are making progress.

And when I say “we”, I actually mean Britain – all of us – whatever our race, in every walk of life.

Because I think there’s a powerful desire in this country to live in a society where people have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and aspirations regardless of their background.  A social contract: shared responsibilities should mean shared opportunities and shared prosperity.

Because if we hold back any part of society – in this context black Britons – then we hold ourselves back as a country. And that’s something we can’t afford to do at a time when, as Ed Miliband has said, we need the talents of everyone to help shape our future in this modern, complex and competitive world.

So progress is vital for individuals – and it is vital for us as a country.

Celebrating progress

The progress we have made is now deeply embedded in the British psyche.

Emile Sande and Tinie Tempah have provided the soundtrack to our lives over the last few of years.  Zadie Smith is a regular fixture on our Kindles. The entire country celebrates whenever Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis-Hill cross the finish line.

That is one view of progress – and an important one.

But there are other perspectives on progress too, which can no longer be ignored. Pick up a copy of the Powerlist – the annual list of Britain’s most influential black people – and you will also see those achieving excellence in other fields: like here in the City, in our Boardrooms, in medicine, in science and other areas – where black people are not so prominent.

So you’ll see Thiam Tidjane, CEO of Prudential, in the Powerlist Hall of Fame. He became CEO in 2009, and under his leadership the value of the company has more than doubled.

You’ll see Mo Ibrahim, who came to this country from Sudan in 1974, started working as a BT engineer and ended up founding Celtel International, one of Africa’s leading mobile phone companies.  With over 24 million subscribers in 14 countries, Celtel was sold in 2004 for $3.4bn. That’s not a bad return!

Inspiring the next generation

You see, it’s so important that we use Black History Month not only to celebrate those on whose shoulders we stand who broke down the barriers in times past – but also those who are pioneering a new future today.

Bothth are vital to giving our young people the confidence and inspiration to back themselves and go after their ambitions and dreams.

If young black people can’t see people who look like them editing our newspapers, sitting on the Supreme Court or running our great British companies, how can we give them the hope that if they work hard, they can make it too?

You see, shining a light on our role models is crucial because too many of them are ignored.

One of the reasons is because our broadcast and film media have a tendency to stereotype black people: to present an image of black British people that suggests we can succeed in sport, entertainment and music, but not necessarily in other fields.

If I am wrong about this, then why do so many black British actors have to leave the UK for the US to get decent film and television roles that fall outside the stereotypes?  Too many in the British film and television industries simply don’t cast black British actors in certain roles that fall outside those stereotypes.

It’s often only after they’ve made it big in the States that black British actors get more – and more varied – roles here. That is unacceptable and has got to change. As a society, we cannot allow people to default to lazy stereotypes.

Outstanding race inequalities

So, I think we all recognise that though we have made great strides towards a more equal society, we still have a long way to go.

As a non-white person in Britain today, you’re twice as likely to be unemployed as a white person.

If you are a young black graduate, you’ll earn on average only three quarters of what a white graduate earns.

If you have an African-sounding surname, you need to send about twice as many job applications as those with traditional English names – not even to get a job – but just to get an interview.

And I’m being generous here. I haven’t gone into the over-representation of black people in the criminal justice and mental health systems – or the disproportionate numbers of young black Caribbean boys, say, being excluded in our schools.

So the message is clear:

If you believe that we are all created equal and ours should be an equal society – then we cannot let up. Our commitment cannot waver. We cannot be complacent.

Carrying on Labour’s tradition tackling race inequality

That’s why I’m a proud to be Labour.  Over the years it was my party that enshrined non-discrimination as a guiding principle not only of our beliefs, but also of our laws – from the Race Relations Act of 1965 to the 2006 anti-age discrimination regulations.

And during our most recent period in office, we did what the previous Conservative government failed to do – to set up the full judicial inquiry into the disgraceful mishandling by the police of the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, an inquiry that acknowledged formally for the first time what we all knew to be true – that there is institutional racism in our country – and we sought to deal with it.

Of course, the real credit for that inquiry belongs to the Lawrence family for their refusal to give up in their demand for justice – and I am proud to say Baroness Doreen Lawrence formally became a Labour peer this month following her nomination by Ed Miliband. That tradition of working to stamp out discrimination in all its forms – deliberate or subconscious – wherever it exists, continues.  Just last week our new Shadow Equalities Minister, Gloria De Piero, launched our race equality strategy. We are consulting on it so please visit our website at yourbritain.org.uk and have your say.

Social mobility stalled                                                            

So I’ve talked about progress made, the need to challenge stereoptypes, and the ongoing quest for race equality in Britain.  But we must go beyond this.

I think we’re unlikely to see future generations of black British people go on and do better than the last if we focus on race inequality alone – we must  address issues of class and social mobility which are holding people back as well.

Social mobility is an annoyingly dry phrase for something so fundamental to all of us: making possible the basic desire of people to create a better future for themselves and their families.

I’ve worked very hard to get to where I have.  However, I do believe that I would have had to work even harder had I not come from a middle class background. When I was growing up the black middle class was still in its infancy.  But now it is growing.

However, unless we make social mobility for everyone our driving purpose, people won’t be able to meet their aspirations, we will not be a more equal society and we won’t make the most of our potential as a country.

Just two weeks ago, the Government’s Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission couldn’t have been clearer:

Britain remains a deeply divided society and economic disadvantage still strongly shapes life’s opportunities. They say there’s a real danger that social mobility could go into reverse in the first part of this century if we don’t act.

So our goal is not only to eradicate prejudice in all its forms and reduce racial and other inequalities, but to create a society where if you want to get on, move out of your flat into a house, progress from the shop floor to the board room, we empower you to do it.

We want to create a society in which the son of a bus driver can go on not only to run but own the bus company. A society where the teenager working the check out at Sainsbury’s in Streatham Common can become its CEO. A society where the budding Richard Bransons and Mo Ibrahims growing up on the Tulse Hill Estate, in one of the most deprived wards in my constituency, can turn their ideas into thriving businesses and make their first million.

Because it is in all our interests – it not only creates wealth for the individual, jobs and growth, and of course tax receipts for the Exchequer!

But that is not our country today. Social mobility has stalled. As Alan Milburn, chair of the Commission said – over the last few decades we’ve become a wealthier society but we haven’t really become a fairer one.

So let me be clear: increasing social mobility and empowering people to meet their aspirations goes to the heart of my politics, it goes to heart of Labour’s values, it goes to the heart of the One Nation Britain Ed Miliband seeks to lead.  Neither your race nor your class should stand in the way of opportunity.

What Labour will do to kick start social mobility

We sought to increase social mobility in Government, investing heavily in education, Sure Start and thousands of new Children’s Centres just a couple of the measures to help give our children a better start in life, important drivers of life chances.

But it wasn’t enough. While we managed to stop income inequality growing, we weren’t able to reverse the massive growth in inequality that happened in the two decades before ‘97

And our achievements during our years in office have since been rolled back.  Alan’s report was clear that the government is making the situation worse.  Austerity is hitting the poorest hardest. Long-term challenges remain unresolved. Child care quality is too variable; child care costs too high.  The most deprived areas still have 30% fewer good schools and not enough state school children are going to the best universities. The number of young people unemployed for more than two years is at a twenty year high. Senior professionals are still more likely to be privately educated and privileged men.

Credit where credit is due: the Government deserves praise for setting up the Social Mobility Commission.  But the Commission’s report and its sobering conclusions challenge us to have a serious conversation about how we secure a future of opportunity for all.

So today, I’m calling on the Government to hold a debate in the House of Commons – on Government time – on that important 2013 report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

So what are the kind of things a future Labour Government would do to boost social mobility?

On growth, the Commission says Government should aim to achieve a balanced recovery that reduces living costs and improves earnings.

We would ensure that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden.  So instead of prioritising giving 12,000 people earning millions a tax cut in the order of £100,000 each, we’d give 24 million working people on middle and lower incomes a 10p starting rate of tax.

On jobs, the Commission urges the Government to set a goal of eliminating long-term youth unemployment. That’s why we’ll introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed to get people back to work.

On training, the Commission urges business leaders and the Government to come together to ensure half of all firms offer apprenticeships.  So we’d insist that companies taking up large government contracts deliver apprenticeships and we’d give employers more control over skills funding in return for more apprenticeships.

On childcare, the Commission says more should be done to support lower and middle income families with child care costs.  So we’d expand free childcare for 3 & 4 year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents, paid for by an £800m rise in the bank levy.

On pay, the Commission urges the Government to focus on reducing in-work poverty by looking again at the remit of the Low Pay Commission to enable raising of the minimum wage and to look at how we incentivise employers to pay more. That is precisely why we have appointed the former Deputy Chair of KPMG, Alan Buckle, to chair a review for us into those very issues.

And of course, for our wealth creators and entrepreneurs, I am determined we provide you with proper support to start up, grow and lead a business, one of the most powerful drivers for social mobility.

I could go on. These are just a selection of the policy commitments we’ve made that will not only help people with the cost of living but give them the ability to create a better life for themselves and their families – to meet their aspirations.

Conclusion

So we must celebrate the progress of black people in every field, and we must tackle the race inequalities that still hold people back. But we must also seek to achieve greater social mobility, to make ours a more equal society and more prosperous nation.

For it is vital that everyone should have hope – hope for a better tomorrow, hope to make the most of their potential. It’s about having purpose, it’s about aspiring and being inspired. Looking to our heroes and looking to our future.

And that calls on us to act.

It brings to mind those powerful words of Martin Luther King:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

 

Amen to that.

Stop and Search: Last Few Days to Respond to Government Consultation

Friday, September 20th, 2013

There are now only four days left to respond to the government consultation on the use of police stop and search powers, which runs until Tuesday September 24th. The consultation invites people to contribute their views of how stop and search powers relating to street crime, burglary, antisocial behaviour, and public order offences are used.

Chuka has been encouraging as many local people as possible to respond to the consultation and has written for the South London Press about how this consultation is an important opportunity to make the voice of the local community heard.

More information about the government consultation can be found on this page on the gov.uk website. There are a number of ways you can respond to the consultation. There is an online form you can use. Or you can email your response to Stopandsearch {at} homeoffice.gsi.gov(.)uk. Or alternatively, you can write to:

Stop and search consultation

Home Office
Police Transparency Unit
6th Floor Fry Building
2 Marsham Street
London, SW1P 4DF

Click here to read Chuka’s article for the South London Press.

Squatting: My View

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Since I have been an MP, a number of local residents have been in touch with me about squats in our area. In my view squatting is damaging to our community. I have faced some criticism from squatting groups for saying so, so I thought it might be helpful if I set out my view.

There is a principle and a practicality when it comes to squatting. The principle is that we are a mutually interdependent society, not a collection of individuals, and that our duties to each other, including the vulnerable, are collective responsibilities that require collective action. The practicality is that the resources available to our public services are under severe strain and, if we are to help the vulnerable, we must protect those resources as much as we can.

  • So, can I happily look into the eyes of one of my constituents while they struggle with the cost of living crisis and tell them that a small part of the reason the Council doesn’t have money to do more to improve their social housing is that they are spending some of the limited resources they have to take the complicated action currently required to remove squatters from a building where they are disrupting local residents and costing the Council tens of thousands of pounds in clear up costs? No.
  • Do I think it is fair that most of my constituents obey the law and pay for their own housing while a few people occupy properties with the intention of avoiding paying for housing when they could do so, taking a decision on their own that their needs are greater than many of my more vulnerable constituents? No.
  • For those particularly vulnerable squatters, homeless through personal tragedy and deep structural forces, do I think that squats are safe places for them to live or part of a long-term solution to homelessness? No.
  • Do I think the deep structural issues in the UK housing market would be solved or even helped by a more permissive attitude to squatting? No.
  • Do I think it is dangerous if people choose to romanticise squatting instead of focussing their attention instead on securing the complex, joined-up action we need to tackle homelessness and meet the needs of one of the most vulnerable groups in society? Instead of focussing on action to ensure we build more, better and more affordable housing? Yes.

When people who live by different rules put themselves above society and our collective rules and responsibilities, when they disrupt a local area and take upon themselves the decision that their needs are greater than others, it can splinter a local sense of community and make daily life for residents worse, it can damage property and neighbourhood alike and introduce fear in place of social solidarity.

It is of course true that not all squatters have the personal resources they need to live independently – though occasionally that is the case. Many single homeless people will at some point squat, but homeless people who squat are still homeless. To pretend otherwise is both wrong and dangerous. Homeless people who squat tend to do so for very short periods of time, rather than the years that other squats operate.

The problems that lead to homelessness – whether personal factors like the loss of housing tenancy, unemployment, mental and physical illness, or domestic violence, drug or alcohol dependency, relationship breakdown, or structural factors like poverty, changes to benefits, or a shortage of affordable housing – are not solved by squatting. They are complex problems that need proper resourcing to tackle.

Some argue that squatting should be tackled, but only after we have solved the housing crisis. In my view that argument fails to account for the horrific pressures our public services are under and the need – urgent and more vital than ever – to ensure every pound spent reaches where it is needed and that we do our best for the most vulnerable. Local residents will have seen reports that the Council has been left with a bill reaching up to £150,000 to clear the damage left by squatters in Nettlefold Hall in West Norwood. That is money that could be better spent elsewhere.

It is not up to squatters to dictate how public money is spent, nor the money of businesses struggling to grow and create jobs for our community. It is tragic that money that could have gone to help the vulnerable will instead be spent clearing up after squatters. If there is reasonable government action that can prevent that happening again, I will support that.

When the housing crisis is affecting so many people throughout society, it is right that the Labour Party is putting such an important focus on housing. This is why we are putting housing centre stage in a way it hasn’t been for a generation. Regeneration and bringing empty homes back into use is important. The problem of rogue landlords needs to be addressed. The single biggest thing that we need to do to solve our housing crisis is to build more housing. This is something that will help our economy too. It is why, amongst other things, we have said that we want government to bring forward £10bn of infrastructure investment, which would allow us to build 400,000 affordable homes, create half a million jobs and make our economy stronger for the long term.

As a mutually interdependent society, we can only solve the problems we face together. When it comes to housing, squatting is not the answer.

Chuka Umunna MP
Member of Parliament for Streatham
covering Streatham and parts of Clapham, Balham, Tulse Hill and Brixton