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Local Government Responsibilities: Public Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 4:26 pm, 18th March 2020

People are understandably very worried at this time of crisis. I am afraid that the Government still need to step up and provide the certainty that the public deserve. It is vital and urgent that they demonstrate that they are meeting all the challenges head on, not least because it is overwhelmingly clear that years of cuts and a failure to invest in services mean that we are extremely ill prepared for dealing with this type of large-scale health risk to our community.

The truth is that the Conservatives have let us down, and they have let down my constituents, who have been disproportionately disadvantaged by austerity. For example, spending on youth services has been slashed by 70% since 2010, with a real-terms cut of £880 million. Locally in my borough, spending on young people fell by a whopping 76.9% between 2011 and 2018. As a result, many people now believe that young people’s lives could be worse than their own generation’s, and some argue that children and young people in Britain are among the unhappiest, unhealthiest, poorest and least educated in the developed world. Yet, it is widely observed that soaring inequality fosters resentment and division. In fact, the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime explicitly linked knife crime to council cuts. Nothing in the Budget last week will solve the crisis facing young people’s futures.

Then there is the education crisis. Schools and early intervention services have faced significant cuts in particular, and parents of children with additional needs are struggling to have their children’s learning needs met. Only a few weeks ago, it was a privilege and an honour for me to stand with local special educational needs and disabilities campaigners outside Downing Street to present an invoice for £12 million—Tower Hamlets Council’s projected SEND budget overspend by 2022.

Parents, families and communities work very hard to support our children, but we are let down time and again by the system that we are forced to struggle within. When things do go wrong in families and relationships, the support so often is not there. For example, the availability of specialist support for those who report domestic abuse varies enormously around the country. According to Women’s Aid, 10 domestic abuse victims are turned away from women’s refuges every day because of a lack of space. While it is good to see that the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill includes a new legal obligation on councils to provide secure refuges for victims, it is important that the necessary resources are provided alongside that responsibility. In my local council, the number of recorded incidents of domestic abuse is above average, and nothing in the Budget will address the crisis of violence against women or mean that every case of domestic abuse is taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need.

Social care is also in crisis in this country. Before the coronavirus outbreak, 1.5 million people were not receiving the care they need. As Members will know and have raised today, the majority of those who receive social care are older, disabled and vulnerable people—the very people who are most at risk from the coronavirus. It is still very unclear from the Government statements so far what additional support is being provided. In the meantime, providers and local authorities are already stretched to breaking point in many areas, so we need to know now how much additional support is being provided specifically for social care.

To be frank, I am truly shocked and surprised that those in the Conservative party still attempt to justify the cruel strategy of austerity, which has decimated local government funding over the past decade, forcing working-class people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It is a shameful indictment of any economy that so many people are trapped in low-paid, insecure work and invariably failed by the social security regime. It is shameful that earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the proportion of people in work who live in poverty went up for the third consecutive year to a record high. It is shameful that, according to End Child Poverty, at 58.5% my constituency of Poplar and Limehouse has the highest child poverty rate in the entire country.

Yesterday, the former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care admitted that the Government’s harsh and uncaring policies have caused suffering and austerity, whose onslaught has been brutal. Cuts equal crisis, and by that I mean that every cut and every closure has had a real and serious human cost. As we speak, the people of my constituency understand the gravity of the situation they are faced with and are trying to support each other the best they can, as they always have done. Right now, public sector workers, who are the backbone of our communities, are working in the most extreme of situations to provide vital services. This is not a time for half-measures or indecision, but for those in power to step up and deliver the scale of intervention, leadership and co-ordination required to secure the funding and operation of local public services. That cannot be deferred to tomorrow, because people are falling ill and are in need today.