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After listening to the rosy picture painted by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government when he opened today’s debate, I had to wonder what planet he is living on, because austerity is definitely not over for my constituents and my city. It is not even close to coming to an end. In response to the Budget, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said:
“If I were a prison governor, a local authority chief executive or a headteacher I would struggle to find much to celebrate. I would be preparing for more difficult years ahead.”
The Prime Minister stood up in Birmingham and made a promise that turned out to be nothing more than hollow rhetoric. For the people of Birmingham, austerity rolls on. Our city has had around £700 million cut from its budget since 2010. In fact, the Government found more money in this Budget for adult social care for the whole country compared with what Birmingham has had cut from its budget since they came to power in 2010. By 2020-21, we will have to find an additional £120 million of cuts to our budget. I do not think that my community of Birmingham, Ladywood has that much left to lose or much more that can be cut. I wonder how we are supposed to keep our city and our corner of British society functioning given the scale of cuts that we have faced. We have seen a total degradation—a decimation—of our public realm, and that has had profound consequences not just for my constituents, but for our country as a whole.
For my constituents, that degradation of the public realm has led to the removal of the things that enable a sense of human flourishment and wellbeing and things that allow a degree of comfort or enjoyment, such as libraries, leisure centres, parks, clean streets, and community and voluntary groups. The disappearance of all those things in Ladywood, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country and all the attendant problems of child poverty that follow, means that community life and individuals’ lives are reduced simply to surviving and enduring. That is unconscionable and immoral in one of the richest countries in the world, but it is entirely a result of political choices made by this Government.
The degradation of the public realm also has profound consequences for us as a country. All the things that enable people to come together and form relationships and friendships are part of our shared common life. If that is taken away, we start to tear apart the ties that bind our nation together and, in an era of anger, greater division and rising populism and nationalism all around the world, that choice is profoundly wrong. This is not just about economics; this is about the tearing apart of the things that keep our country together. We need and deserve more than this.