Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 6:24 pm, 24th April 2019

My hon. Friend Emma Hardy has summed up the importance of today’s debate. The reality is that care does not come for nothing; it costs money, and it is about where this Government’s priorities actually sit. We have heard the talk about millions and billions of pounds so many times, yet the very people in our society who need special care are so often overlooked.

I want to thank the staff of City of York Council for the incredible work they do for my city, as they have in very difficult times over the last four years. Decisions are often made that they do not agree with, yet they have complied with them as servants of our people, and that is against the backdrop of losing a fifth of their wages in real terms.

My hon. Friend Laura Smith highlighted how careworkers in particular are paid so poorly. Why? They are women. The fact is that this Government take it that women will not go out on strike and will not fight, but will care instead because they know how desperately people need their labour. They know how desperately people need them to visit and how, if they do not turn up that day, somebody will be worse off. That is why money is not put in: because they care and because they are women. The inequality that is now embedded so deeply in our system highlights to me how broken the funding system for local government is.

Beyond that, we know that local government itself does not get the investment, yet it is where change can really happen. We heard earlier about how Labour brought in a place-based system, looking at how to get the interconnectivity of different lines of funding. Now we see the fragmentation, the diktats from Government and the pulling apart of local communities, and I see that reflected in my local area as well. The whole system of funding is broken, and funding has not been spread out to where there is greatest need.

Returning to the issue of older people, I want to highlight this point. In this place, we talk about older people only with regard to social care and pensions, which are seen as financial burdens on the state. We do not talk about how the state can invest in these really precious lives and ensure that their rights are upheld right to the end. That is why the all-party group on ageing and older people, of which I am the chair, set up an inquiry into the human rights of older people, and the report came back saying that it is absolutely vital that there is a commission on the rights of older people.

I have written to both the Ministers sitting on the Front Bench—the Minister for Care and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jackie Doyle-Price—and I have to say that the response has been woeful. We are talking about the rights, voice, opportunity and future of older people, but they are just dismissed. I believe that is why we have seen the delay in the social care Green Paper, which, let us face it, is a discussion document and is not going to change anything. The prioritisation placed on the most vulnerable people in our society is wrong, and we have got to see change.

If we are talking about wider change, there is the funding of local authorities as well, and it is a broken system. When we look at business rates—I have debated them many times in this place—we see that, as the high streets are hollowed out, the business rates return even less, so local government’s dependency on business rates does not work. We have of course seen precepts, which are regressive, and the council tax, which at its concept was a stopgap for the failed poll tax system. We need to look at funding for local authorities in a very different way.

This is not just about funding, but about how funding interconnects with the social ambition of our councillors. I have to say that Labour’s vision in York is very different from that of the current administration, which has just let the market move in. Profit-obsessed developers are now building luxury apartments all over our city, which, quite frankly, people in York cannot afford. We are one of the lowest-wage economies in the north: wages fell in York by £66 last year, and pay is £80 a week lower than the national average.

We are a post-industrial city and we are struggling, yet people are exploiting our city. Just two weeks ago, the council agreed plans to put up 2,000 luxury flats in the middle of our city when we have a housing crisis. Eleven people died on our streets last year, and we have families—whole families—in cramped, one-bedroom box rooms, and they are damp as well. What is happening on the ground in local authority areas is completely unacceptable. It is the responsibility of Government to wake up to the reality. I do not want to hear platitudes; I want to see action.

York is the most inequitable city outside of London; the inequality and life expectancy there show that there is failure in the system. It may work for some, but it certainly is not working for the many. Labour’s vision for our city is very different. We want investment in people. We want to give them back their voice so that they can build their future. That is what we will do, should we come to power on 2 May.

People have exploited our city. The post office, Bootham Park Hospital and the barracks have been sold, but the money has not come back into our city. Those sites have been handed over to developers who, quite frankly, just want to make money; they do not want to invest in people. Our city is crying out for a change in approach. It looks shabby and dirty. Waste is not being addressed and recycling rates are falling. The issues that people care about in our communities are not being addressed.

The Labour party, however, is ambitious. We will put in place a transport commission to address air pollution, which is taking 150 lives a year in our city. We will make it a carbon-neutral city by 2030, which is more ambitious by far than this Government. We will ensure that we invest in green spaces, because that is a more holistic approach and better for people’s health. We will make those connections and join the dots.

Why do that in York? We only need look back 100 years, when Seebohm Rowntree carried out his studies of poverty in our city. We will also do that, should we get elected in May, and look at the real deprivation that exists in our city. The Rowntree family then built jobs and housing, put in education and pension systems, promoted the leisure and pleasure that people should enjoy in their everyday lives, and rebuilt York out of the slums. That is what Labour will do again, should we be given the opportunity on 2 May. We will not only analyse what has gone wrong—it is there for everyone to see—but give people the security they deserve and hope for their future so that they can join us on the journey to build a compassionate, humane city.