Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 5:42 pm, 24th April 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Naz Shah. She is a doughty champion for her constituents, and she made the point incredibly powerfully that taking deprivation out of the local government funding calculation is absolutely shameless. It is constituencies like hers and mine that will suffer the brunt of that, and I pay tribute to her for her words.

Redcar and Cleveland has had a raw deal over the past nine years. I have lost count of the number of times I have stood up here in this Chamber to talk about the unfair and disproportionate cuts that areas such as mine have suffered. As we have said, it is the deprived areas that are not getting the funding and support that they need. We have had a big debate this afternoon about how much money is in the pot and whose fault it is that there is not enough, but this is not just about how much money is available for local government; it is about how it is distributed. It was clear from the evidence given by my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne and from some Conservative MPs that the funding has been shifted under this Government. It has been moved from the areas that need it most to areas that are doing fine. There is a deep unfairness and flaw in the funding system as it stands.

Redcar and Cleveland has now lost £90 million since 2010. That is £662 per person; each of my constituents has lost £662. On top of that, they have had to pay more through precepts in social care and policing, yet they have still lost 500 police officers and they are still getting worse services. They are paying twice. My constituents are among the poorest. We still have council tax based on 1991 housing prices, but areas such as mine have not seen house prices rise; the value of my constituents’ assets has not risen. They are still paying a deeply regressive council tax that is proportionately much tougher on them than it is on many others throughout the country. They are paying more through precepts and getting less from their services. That is simply not fair.

My council has lost a third of its central Government funding. How on earth can it be expected to continue to deliver the standards of service that people want? I pay tribute to Sue Jeffrey, the leader of the Labour-run Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, which has continued to do amazing work to defend our constituents and to provide fantastic opportunities and events for people who come to the area. The council has continued to provide the services that many people need and has done so without leaving behind the most vulnerable. I also pay tribute to Amanda Skelton and to all the council staff who work so hard.

Redcar and Cleveland does struggle, however. We have high levels of deprivation and child poverty. We have higher unemployment than most of the country and lower health and wellbeing outcomes. As a seaside town in a former industrial area, we have an increasingly ageing population. On top of all that, we had an economic shock in 2015 following the loss of 3,000 jobs after the closure of the steelworks, which had a huge knock-on effect on public services in the local area. This is not just about the devastating personal tragedies of those who lost their jobs, because there was another knock-on effect in terms of higher dependency on benefits and more insecure and poorly paid work. The average salary of someone who worked at the steelworks has declined by £10,000, and many people had to move away to look for work. The effect of all that on our communities, high streets and towns has been devastating, and the local authority lost £10 million in business rates following the closure of the steelworks on top of the funding cuts about which we have already heard.

As I said, despite the funding pressures, our council has continued to do a really good job, and I am incredibly proud of it. It has protected services for the vulnerable and has kept our libraries and leisure centres open. It has tried really hard to invest in our town and village centres, with a particular focus on economic development. For example, Eston has received £2 million over the past two years, with a further £1 million coming for its precinct. An award-winning employment and training hub has been established, getting over 1,000 people into work in just 18 months. The hub sprang out of crisis following the loss of the steelworks, but it has been innovative, going right into our most deprived communities and supporting people who may not have had a CV before, to get them the necessary training and experience to get into employment. I am incredibly proud of that groundbreaking work. There are plans to invest £40 million in the regeneration of the iconic Regent Cinema on the seafront and a further £95 million to create 4,500 jobs, so our local authority is working hard and doing its best. Redcar has a bright future, but we are doing things locally and we are doing them ourselves.

Social care is the big theme of today’s debate, and we know that it represents the biggest pressure on local authority spending. It is projected that over-65s will make up a quarter of Redcar and Cleveland’s population by 2030, so we have an ageing demographic. While it is fantastic that children with complex needs and conditions and older adults are living longer, that means greater costs. As others have said, it is ridiculous that we are still waiting for the social care Green Paper, which has been postponed five times since 2017. This Government have no vision for the future of social care, and strategy and direction are sorely lacking.

Faced with that vacuum, local leaders are again stepping forward, taking up the mantle and trying to deal with the crisis. Redcar and Cleveland is seeing fantastic innovation, such as the intermediate care centre that will open later this spring, and we have invested in specialist support, including a recovery and independence team that goes out to support people in their homes. I am also proud of Redcar’s Care Academy. We know that jobs in the sector are underfunded and have a high turnover, so hopefully the academy will ensure that that such roles are highly skilled and valued going forward.

We are using the money that we have, although it is not enough, to deliver better care for residents, but that is no substitute for proper investment. Unfortunately, inadequate care means that too many people are having to step into caring roles. We rely upon an army of unpaid family members—overwhelmingly women—who are taking care of their relatives. Many of them have to give up work to take up that role, and many of them are older people, as we have heard today. A huge burden has been placed on them, and we must do more to help by looking after their loved ones and taking away that burden.

That is where the money should be going but instead, in the past few weeks, we have seen £4 billion spent on no-deal preparations when the Government have completely acknowledged that we were never going to have a no deal—it was some crazy, ridiculous pretence at a negotiation. If Labour had won the election in 2017, we would have invested double that in social care. That is where money should be going in this country. We would have brought in a living wage for carers, we would have ended 15-minute care visits and we would have increased carer’s allowance. That is exactly the sort of thing a Government who care about the many, not the few, would be looking at. Instead, we are wasting money by frittering it away on the Tory soap opera of Brexit.

Labour Members want to tackle the burning injustices in our communities, and we want to help those most in need. We need a Government who will invest in social care for the 21st century without forcing elderly people into selling or remortgaging their home, who will support families to secure the care their relatives need, who will support families to cope with disadvantage, and who will prevent children from having to be taken into care. We need a system that preserves dignity and quality of life in old age.

Councils are at breaking point, yet we see Labour councils out there defending the most vulnerable, striving hard for their communities and creating safe and decent places to live, but communities like mine are being left behind by austerity. We have had enough warm words; we need investment in local government and fairness in distribution. No more austerity, no more cuts.