LAST week I thought I would go and see what practical steps were being taken to support local families in the recession, and I took the minister responsible, Helen Goodman, with me.
We visited the job centre in Hammersmith to see how the Future Jobs Fund is tackling youth unemployment. Since it started last autumn, in both Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, claimant numbers have fallen from roughly 500 to 400, though the mass redundancies at the town hall are not helping the local economy. Among the latest 75 people made redundant (on top of 1,000 sacked by the Tories in the last three years) is the regeneration officer who worked with the job centre to find new jobs for those out of work.
In total, 4.3 per cent of borough residents are claiming Job Seeker's Allowance. This compares with 6.3 per cent when Labour was elected in 1997 and 12.3 per cent during the last recession in 1992. Then, 1.7 million more people were out of work across the country.
Helen and I also met staff, parents and children at Cathnor Park Children's Centre. This was the first centre opened under the government's Sure Start scheme in 2000. Soon there will be 15 in the borough. Children's centres support the whole family from pregnancy to starting school and in turn rely on tax credits to allow working parents to use them as affordable childcare. But both the centres themselves and tax credits are among the first things to be cut, according to Cameron and Osborne's list.
I also came across another example of how the council uses government money to hide its own cuts. The parent and toddler group from The Hut are now based at Cathnor Park. They were evicted from Godolphin Road two years ago so the council could sell their building. While they are very happy in the children's centre, the old premises stand boarded up and rotting nearby.