In June, we established a dedicated Employment Rights Hub, becoming the first local authority in the country to do so, to support residents to know their rights, access advice and organise. This had been part of my administration’s plan from the beginning, but the Covid-19 pandemic exposed why this was so important, just as it surfaced many other already existing issues of inequality and injustice.
When I was first elected as Mayor of Newham in 2018, it was evident that Newham’s local economy was not working for our people. Our residents felt the sharp end of a failed and inequitable economic approach, premised on the idea that a job alone was the route out of poverty. An epidemic of insecure work in Newham saw many residents facing significant in-work poverty, in particular in the retail and service sector. We discovered that a shocking 27% of residents were earning less than the national minimum wage, let alone the London living wage. We set out on a mission to fundamentally reshape our local economy, using community wealth building principles. Then when Covid-19 hit, poverty, inequality – and in particular race inequality – together with insecure work, overcrowded housing, the ’causes of causes’ as Professor Michael Marmot has called them, left Newham residents particularly affected and vulnerable. As a borough with the country’s most diverse population (73% of our residents are ethnic minorities) we also had the highest death rate from Covid-19 in May 2020.
This underlined the urgent need to act on insecure work. Our jobs and financial advice service, Our Newham, had already seen a huge increase in demand, including those accessing our emergency support. Our Employment Rights Hub seeks to reinforce that help that we provide, and will be part of efforts to change the nature of the work in our borough. Following the launch of the hub in June, our three dedicated employments rights advisers are delivering workshops and offering direct one-to-one support to residents. We know that as lockdown measures ease and we face the end of furlough, there will be new fault lines in the fight for fair, well-paid and safe work. Newham has the highest furlough rate in London, and so our service is gearing up to support residents then, when it will be even more essential to know what their rights are.