This May’s local election is probably the most important in our lifetime. We Care at Kath’s Place sees the growing numbers of people seeking our help and telling us how the cost of living crisis is pushing them over the edge, whilst Lewisham Labour Council is oblivious to the reality for the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable across our borough.
As I write this, thousands of the poorest in the borough have been unable to claim the Government’s £50 Tesco voucher because, instead of sending out a voucher to those most in need, the council has sent a link which is so complicated that few have been able to access it or claim the voucher. This happened repeatedly during the Covid crisis, with NO phone number just a website to access, yet many vulnerable and elderly people can’t use the internet, and huge numbers do not have a smartphone.
Today we see rents, service charges and council tax all going up. At a time when it’s clear many can’t feed themselves or afford to heat their poorly insulated council homes, how can savagely cutting back on essential services, while expecting people to pay increases with cash they simply do not have, be in any way feasible?
This has left us with no choice but to put forward community independent candidates in the May local elections, and the day has come that I never thought I’d see again; I am standing as an Independent for Brockley ward in Lewisham South East London with my two fellow food bank volunteers Toni Ann Gurdon and Stewart Lendor.
Why Independent and not party political? In the present world, increasing numbers of people no longer see themselves as left or right; it’s on social issues, campaigns, social justice, and civil rights where there is a vital need to come up with real solutions rather than simply following the latest hashtag trend. Watching much of the left run for political office using the language of the past and forgetting that people are increasingly NOT global or National, but community-based. Struggling to put food on the table and having to think about whether you can afford to switch on that light is the new reality for millions.
Offering real solutions
Huge numbers of people living with a disability can no longer afford to leave home, so go hungry, cold and alone, even robbed of that one day out to a day centre or art class, because, in the world in which we live, the £20 or so it costs to give someone a little sunshine once a week is an expenditure too far for local government. This is all happening whilst local councillors vote through cuts and closures to desperately-needed services, but of course never vote through cuts to their own allowances or wages. Too many of these councillors see the lure of ‘developers gold’ and approve the building of faceless steel towers which block out our blue sky, towers surrounded by trees with no blossom or fruit. They bring no joy in the spring and autumn months and only aid and abet the killing off of our animal diversity, because trees which bloom are more expensive to maintain.
This failure to address any local housing needs, such as putting an end to the selling of ‘trophy’ apartments to those who have their funds safely offshore (and often do not even live in Britain), involves allowing the poorer and more vulnerable to freeze in their homes, many of which are shop doorways. It is a disgrace!
So this May we, as Independents, are standing on local issues, offering real solutions and campaigning for all council and government buildings to have solar energy. We need heat pumps which protect the planet and produce income to end dependency on private global energy companies, with the surplus sold to tackle poverty. In 2014 we developed a significant project to tackle poverty when We Care Food bank established a not for profit energy company, using roofs of schools, churches and community centres to generate green energy, raised through share offers over £1 million. If volunteers at a food bank can do this, why not our councils and government?
We are campaigning to give every parent free bamboo biodegradable nappies. We give these away for free at We Care Food Bank and, not only do they save parents around £1000, they are better than the cheap disposable options which fuel poverty, damage our planet and cost local councils a fortune in blocked drains and waste removal.
We want empty buildings handed over to local community groups who have the power to transform a community with just a little help from councils, just as we transformed a trashed phone box on Deptford High Street into the world’s first 24/7 community hub.
We want every tenant to be given their legal rights along with their council tax bills every year. It cannot be right in 2022 that tenants, be they in private, council or housing association accommodation, live in fear of eviction for reporting disrepair or putting in a request for insulation. We oppose the Right to Buy scheme which is seeing local councils selling homes which only too often end up in the hands of the ‘buy to let’ market; homes we need and which are being sold off faster than they can be built, all while we have a national housing crisis which is seeing the slum housing of the sixties, like food banks, becoming the only growth sector under this government.
Will we win in May? Can we win in May? That’s up to the voters. We hope, by putting forward solutions and candidates who have a lifetime of community activism behind them and who are embedded in their community, offering real solutions and speaking in a language that’s clear to understand, that we will speak to voters. This will be in a way that the politicians, those who appear only at election time to harvest votes and pledge so much if you will vote them in one more time, do not.
Our candidates are standing on a record of real community service. (These days many candidates seem to think being a member of a political party is community activism). The political left must understand this if it is serious about power. It needs to state real practical and realistic solutions which can transform lives and communities NOW, because a revolution takes time and our people can’t wait.
This is the manifesto on which the candidates are standing:
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