The Coronavirus pandemic has not only again highlighted the inequalities that exist when it comes to low pay, the BAME community and the sacrifices made by emergency service workers.It has also cast attention on the damage caused by years of Tory austerity policies and the damage that has done to public services and the disadvantage it causes within our society.
Let us not forget that over the last year the Government has been forced to issue much needed protective equipment to NHS staff and care workers after they denied shortages; only provided support to those out of work and businesses struggling to keep going after huge public pressure and campaigns by trade unions and others; and been forced to row back on their decisions not to provide free school meals over the holidays, to keep schools open and their repeated attempts to shut down the furlough scheme.
On Wednesday this week Lambeth Council will set its budget for the upcoming year. The prolonged uncertainty people across the community feel about their own finances comes at a time when councils across the country continue to face huge budget cuts and expectations from central government that they will raise Council Tax.
Conservative cuts to council budgets have continued to cause huge problems for the funding of local services. With nearly all central government funding for councils ended, councils across England are reliant on the money raised by Council Tax and Business Rates. In Lambeth, the Coronavirus pandemic has left a £44.5m hole in the Council’s budget – but the Tory Government has shamefully refused to honour its commitment to fully reimburse councils for the extra spending incurred whilst they protected the most vulnerable residents from COVID-19. When we look at the budget for Lambeth Council, it is important that we recognise that more than half of the Council’s spending goes on children and adults social services – with the next biggest area of spending being waste collection. The Council is legally required to provide these services, meaning that the vast majority of council income is essentially already spent and the rest of our services must fit into what is remaining in the budget at a time when demand for council services is increasing.
17,000 residents in Lambeth have been furloughed over the last year, vulnerable children and low-income families are often excluded from online access and food poverty has increased. 37,000 children in Lambeth live in poverty, with 10,000 children receiving free school meals and 33,000 families relying on Universal Credit payments to get by. The Government expects councils to increase Council Tax this year – having included increases in their calculations for spending on local services.
Here in Lambeth we will be using the extra Council Tax people are being asked to pay to expand the support for those who need it the most. By asking everyone to pay a little bit more in Council Tax we will be able to put additional money into our local emergency support scheme that has helped thousands of local families, we will continue to provide discretionary housing payments to help those struggling with housing costs and to fund local advice surgeries for those in financial difficulties. We will ensure the most vulnerable are not impacted by the Council Tax rise, by increasing the scope of and funding for the Lambeth Council Tax Support scheme – removing 7,000 households from paying council tax. If you want to read the details of the budget you can find it here.