Lib Dem council chiefs speak out against cuts

88 council chiefs rail against the scale and pace of cuts, as evidence builds that the vulnerable wi

 

In the most significant sign yet of grass-roots discontent with the coalition, 88 Liberal Democrat council chiefs have written to the Times (£) to criticise the scale and pace of cuts.

The 17 local authority leaders and 71 local party heads – including the leaders of Newcastle, Milton Keynes and Hull City Councils – warn that services for the most vulnerable will have to be cut. While accepting the need for local councils to play their part in reducing the deficit, they say that spending reductions are too big and being implemented too quickly. They also personally attack the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, for "shak[ing] a stick at councillors" rather than working with them.

Rather than assist the country's recovery by making public-sector savings in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are so structured that they will do the opposite . . .

This front-loading means councils do not have the lead-in time necessary to re-engineer services on a lower-cost base and ease staff cuts without forced, expensive redundancies. Inexplicably, local government is also being denied the opportunity to spread the cost of reorganisation and downsizing over several years – at no cost to central government – which just makes even bigger in-year cuts inevitable.

This intervention is a serious blow to the unity of the coalition, and is particularly significant because the Liberal Democrats are, and have always been, a party of local government. Such an unequivocal statement of discontent shows that loyalty to the leadership is stretched to its very limit.

Indeed, while the localism agenda appears at first glance to be an area of concordance between the two coalition parties, this incident points to a key difference: the Lib Dems favour local government as a means of delivering this, but Cameron's Conservatives would rather diminish councils in favour of non-state voluntary groups. However, as the outcry in the last week has demonstrated, there is a contradiction inherent in the Tories' view of this, as much of the funding for the charities they would like to expand comes from grants from local councils.

Meanwhile, an in-depth survey of the largest local authorities (also in the Times) suggests that at least 140,000 council jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, and that the elderly, mentally ill and disabled will be hit hardest.

Elsewhere, the BBC's Mark Easton shows that the more deprived an area, the bigger the proportionate cut in its budget:

Every voter in Labour-controlled Hackney [will] lose £210.19 in "spending power" as a result of the cuts (8.8% reduction), while their equivalent in Conservative-controlled East Dorset is losing £2.86 (roughly 2%).

These Lib Dem councillors were right to speak out against this assault on local government; now we must hope that someone in central government is listening.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.