George Osborne’s budget has left councils across the country in disarray. The local government funding cuts were expected, but knowing they were coming makes them no less painful.
Having been elected as a Councillor in Barking and Dagenham last year, I was relying on the election of a Labour Government to enable me to do my job properly. Instead, I have come to the harsh realisation that my role is no longer to help residents and improve services; it is about implementing cuts for a government who are trying to decimate the state as we know it.
Over the past few years departments have had to be cut to the bare bone, services have been minimised or disappeared altogether and we have lost valuable staff that had years of knowledge behind them. Disabled residents have lost their income, families have lost their community facilities and overstretched staff are losing the will to live! In Barking and Dagenham, Councillors have been told we have to save another £70m and we simply don’t know where it’s going to come from….
Councils have also been quietly hit by other budget announcements, such as the Tories plan to reduce social rents by 1%. I’m all for lowering rents in the private sector, where greedy landlords are able to extract over £9bn in housing benefit from the tax payer by exploiting the housing crisis, but this is different. This new policy sees us lose £33m over the next five years, £33m that could have improved the lives and the homes of borough residents.
Councils charge reasonable rents, do not make profits and reinvest income to improve housing stock and build new homes. Losing rental income means Barking and Dagenham and other councils across the country will not be able to build the social housing that this country so desperately needs, with the Office for Budget Responsibility estimating 14,000 homes nationally will not be built as a result of this policy. This means longer waiting lists for those in need and an increased bill to the taxpayer for placing people in expensive private rented accommodation. If the Tories genuinely want to tackle the housing benefit bill they would build MORE homes not fewer, and cap rents in the private sector, not the public.
The ever shrinking benefits cap is another budget announcement that had Councillors across London worried about their residents and their ability to secure local housing. Locals are being forced out of their homes whilst Inner London councils are putting their residents in homes in outer London boroughs. This is increasing demand, and therefore rent levels, making it near on impossible for young residents to set up home nearby and causing our housing benefit payments to those in private housing to soar. It’s not fair for either party and is ripping our communities apart.
To add insult to injury, the Tories are proposing to charge households earning over £40,000 market rents if they are in social housing (or those earning over £30,000 outside London). On the surface that might sound fair, but there’s a hidden problem here. If families are expected to pay such high rents, the likeliness is it will be cheaper for them to buy. They will be able to get a huge discount on their home through the Right to Buy scheme leaving councils with fewer homes to offer to the thousands on our waiting lists and no money to build any more.
The worst part about this budget for Barking and Dagenham is that once again, we suffer disproportionately compared to others boroughs, as do most other deprived areas across the country. George Osborne’s version of fairness entails evening out council budgets across the country, but as deprived boroughs have increased needs they have higher levels of funding in the first place and therefore lose most money. He is effectively taking money and services from people that need them and giving them to those who do not (who, often reside in Tory boroughs…)
And this, friends, is what the Tory budget is really about; taking from the have nots and giving to the haves.
‘We’re all in this together’ won’t cut it this time round.
Labour Councillor, Barking & Dagenham