Let me begin by putting my speech in context. Some of the wards in my constituency are among the most deprived in the country, and feature regularly in the index of multiple deprivation. Thirty per cent. of children in my constituency are growing up in poverty, and in some wards the figure is as high as 50%. My council’s revenue support grant has been cut by more than 50%. Millions of pounds have been taken from Burnley, which has affected services provided by both Burnley Borough Council and Lancashire County Council.
Let me take this opportunity to thank Burnley’s Labour council, which has delivered services valiantly. It has gone above and beyond, in difficult times, to grow the pie and create an environment in which businesses can grow. It has absolutely no support from central Government, yet it toils on, and my thanks go out to each and every one of its members.
Both the county council and the borough council have been faced with the unenviable task of rationing services as the budget cuts have had their impact. Cuts clearly have consequences, and the current level of cuts is touching every part of our society. We have gone beyond the superficial. Decent roads are a luxury of the past: no one expects to be able to drive a car down a road in my constituency that is not riddled with potholes. The libraries are closing. Subsidies are no longer available for bus routes to rural areas, so many of my vulnerable constituents are now isolated. However, we are taking all that on the chin: those are frills of the past. Some of my constituents are suffering daily when it comes to services as important as social care for the elderly. Many old people are sitting alone in their homes, relying on the carers who provide them with the only contact that they have with another human being in 24 hours. Cuts in care packages mean 20-minute visits, which means that there is barely enough time to prepare a hot meal and get someone out of bed who has been waiting desperately with toilet needs. That is what we have come to.
We are seeing, not surprisingly, the see-sawing of old people in and out of hospital. Inadequate social care budgets have consequences for the wider NHS. Old people languish in hospital beds. They are not bed-blocking. They do not want to be in hospital, and their families do not want them to be there. They want to be in their own homes and to be afforded dignity in their own homes, but as a result of the cuts that is just not happening, despite the councils’ best efforts.
Youth services are now virtually non-existent. It is no wonder we have seen a rise in youth crime and extra pressure on youth offending services. The services that are needed to support young people in our communities simply are not there. A women’s refuge in my constituency which regularly has to turn away desperate women because it is bursting at the seams is threatened with closure, because sustainable funding cannot be guaranteed from one year to the next. It is an absolute disgrace that a service staffed by dedicated people protecting vulnerable women and their children should be under the threat of closure.
Support services for schools have been decimated. One of the saddest areas is the total lack of provision for children with special educational needs. In the first instance, they and their families wait months on end for a diagnosis that could even begin to attract some social support. When the diagnosis is achieved, the support is just not there. We have seen the very worrying trend of parents left with no choice but to home educate their children. Parents who have never sought to take on that responsibility are left with no option but to keep their children at home. That does not help the family and it does not help the children.
Those cuts are so short-sighted. Our children are the future of this country. If we invest in them and support them now, they will go on to be economically productive. Taking services away from all vulnerable people is storing up trouble not just for the local council, but for the wider economy.
The Secretary of State said that times have been hard, but who have they been hard for? They are hardest for the most vulnerable in our society: for the children with special educational needs; for the old people in need of social care packages; for lonely people isolated because the buses are not there anymore. After nine years of budget cuts, the services have been absolutely savaged. The Prime Minister tells us that austerity is over; I see no sign of that in my constituency.
There is a recent consultation from Lancashire County Council, which has to make further savings of £135 million on top of the savings I have just talked about. It is consulting on reductions in street lighting—at a time when police budgets are being cut, we are creating a burglar’s paradise. It is consulting on the remodelling of health improvement services, which is actually a withdrawal of support services in the community for alcoholics seeking rehabilitation, smokers trying to quit and people in need of obesity services. That will all store up problems for the NHS. There is a proposal to increase the costs for self-funders accessing day care services by an eye-watering 15%. The council is consulting on cuts to home improvement services for the disabled and the elderly who need adaptations to be able to live independently in their own homes. It is all counterproductive and it all flies in the face of what the Government say they care about.
The council is consulting on cuts to the welfare rights service. There are proposals to remove respite breaks for parents of children with life-threatening conditions and to end the audit of child safeguarding services. The budgets for social care, fostering, adoption and the youth offending team are all being cut. There are reduced budgets to support looked-after children, and so it goes on.
Government Members might choose to deny it, but this is the reality of a Conservative Government refusing to adequately fund local authorities to deliver the services that our constituents so desperately need. This cannot go on; people have had enough. I hope that people in my constituency are listening to this debate, that they appreciate the efforts of the Labour council to prioritise their needs in very difficult times, and that they remember that next Thursday.