No meaningful change comes without hard work and perseverance. But careful, consistent community organising builds the power we need for social justice. After 18 months of meetings, strategising, actions and negotiations, Redbridge Citizens’ agenda of the Living Wage and Affordable Housing was well recognised at the Redbridge Fairness Commission on 18 August 2015.
Fr Stephen Pugh, from Saint Margaret of Antioch Anglican Church, chaired the action. He began with an invitation:
"Redbridge Citizens is committed to building stronger, integrated communities. We encourage all schools, faith and non-faith groups that want to build a real social justice agenda in Redbridge, to join us."
Eunice Zamba, a leader from On the Rock Church in Newbury Park, gave testimony about the struggles that Care Workers face when they are not paid the Living Wage. She said:
"My goal was to give elderly people a chance to live normal, dignified lives. I did their shopping, I washed them, and, most importantly, I liked to talk to them when they were lonely. Being a care worker meant that I became the family that so many elderly people in Redbridge do not have.
"However, I was only earning £6.90 per hour. I started to do other work that paid better, but my heart was with the elderly people that I cared so much about … the only way I could survive was to work 2 jobs, day and night, sleeping for only 3 hours at a time. I never got to spend any quality time with my children."
Bernadette Harris, a leader from the Social Care Campaign from Saint Thomas of Canterbury, congratulated the Redbridge Council for paying all directly employed staff the Living Wage, but pointed out third party contracted staff were not paid the Living Wage, deepening income inequality in the Borough. She asked the Commission recommend the Council to review and renegotiate contracts to include the Living Wage and to include the Living Wage in all procurement documents.
Bernadette pressed the issue home:
"Citizens UK supports the belief that Work should be the surest way out of poverty and that no-one should have to do a hard day’s work for less than they can live on."
Finally, Lieutenant John Clifton, from the Salvation Army in Ilford, laid out the stark reality of the housing crisis. He mentioned the sorry tale of Pioneer Point, a company that built two huge towers in Ilford. The company did not want to pay their affordable housing contribution to the Council, which was due once the building reached a 75% occupancy rate. As a result, the entire South Tower stands empty while the Housing Crisis continues.
He challenged the Commissioners about the new Housing Zone, a £500 million investment in 2000 homes to be built in Ilford by March 2021. What would it deliver for local people? Specifically, how many of the 500 new affordable homes would be Community Land Trusts? Would all the jobs be paid the Living Wage?
"But the big question is this. Is this a Pioneer Point Housing Zone or a People’s Housing Zone? Will it just makes developers wealthy? Or will local people benefit?"
The leaders were very well received by the Commissioners. They listened attentively and commented on how crisp and appealing our asks were.
Councillor Mark Santos, Co-Chair of the Fairness Commission and Redbridge’s Cabinet Member for Social Care, personally thanked Eunice for her testimony. Geoff Hill, the Chair of the Redbridge Chamber of Commerce, was impressed by the presentation. Geoff told us that ‘one of the recommendations of this Commission will be around CLTs’. Julia Slay, Co-Chair of the Commission and Senior Researcher and Programme Manager for the Social Policy team at the New Economics Foundation, mentioned the positive role that the Islington Fairness Commission played in ensuring the that Council paid the Living Wage to 100% of its directly employed and 98% of its third party outsourced staff.
The Commission will write up its Report and deliver it to the Council with their recommendations within a few months. We anticipate strong action from the Council as a result.
Eunice summed up the feelings of the Redbridge Citizens leaders in our evaluation:
"Tonight, we were recognised as the Living Wage and CLT champions of Redbridge!"