David Cameron and Eric Pickles seem to be living in a world of their own. They claim we’re all in it together, and that those with the broadest shoulders must bear the biggest burden. They say that their distribution of local government funding has been fair. But the figures we are publishing today show that the very opposite is the case. In fact, they are hitting the poorest communities hardest at a time when families are already struggling.
The government has imposed the biggest funding reductions in the public sector on local councils, even though they are the most efficient part of the public sector. Funding for local government has been cut by 40% over this parliament, with councils having to reduce their budgets by a total of £20bn by 2015-16. This huge reduction has not, however, been spread fairly between local authorities. We need to get the deficit down, but we need to do so fairly.
Today’s figures show that under this government, using their own preferred measure of “spending power per household”, the 25 most deprived local authorities in England will lose 10 times the amount in spending power per household compared to the 25 least deprived local authorities between 2010-11 and 2015-16. It is a legacy of this Tory-led coalition.
This financial year, the prime minister’s own local authority of West Oxfordshire – one of the least deprived areas in the country (ranked 316 out of 326 in the indices of multiple deprivation) – actually got an increase in spending power, while most places are having to deal with significant reductions. Over the whole parliament some of the wealthiest areas will see a rise in the amount of public money they have to spend per household.
It is quite simply scandalous that the most deprived areas are shouldering the greatest reductions in central government funding, while some of the wealthiest areas will find themselves even better off. What is more, government ministers simply don’t understand the impact that these unfair decisions are having on communities that rely on services for the young, the elderly and those most in need. They are hitting those who can least afford it the hardest.
The coalition is hitting the poorest people in those communities too. Pickles lectures councils and says they have a “moral duty” not to increase council tax bills this year, but at the same time he has dropped his own council tax bombshell on people on the lowest incomes.
At a time when carers, the disabled, single mums, war widows and veterans are having to pay more council tax and the hated bedroom tax, Cameron refuses to rule out cutting the top rate of tax yet again. This tells you all you need to know about whose side he is on.
Cameron and Pickles just don’t get it. They don’t understand that it is because of their economic failure nationally on growth and the deficit that communities are seeing further, deeper cuts locally, and they seem to have no idea about the hardship that many communities and people are going through.
The next Labour government will inherit a very difficult financial situation. We won’t be able to reverse the cuts we inherit. We can, however, make sure the way we go about deficit reduction and distributing public money is much fairer. So as well as distributing resources to councils to take far greater account of need, we need to make sure that we pass money and power down to communities more widely.
With rising pressures on councils, particularly on social care and looked-after children, we have to reshape the way public services work to break down the barriers and get services working together. Ernst & Young estimates that changing services in this way for health and social care, troubled families and work and skills could deliver savings of between £9.4bn and £20.6bn.
Getting money out of Whitehall and down to the town hall is also essential if we are going to address the crisis of confidence – and alienation – in our politics. To rebuild confidence in the power of people working together to create something better, we must give people the power to do precisely that for themselves.