The Secretary of State has already given the hon. Gentleman the answer, and I am very pleased to repeat what the Secretary of State and the Chancellor said last March: they would fully compensate councils for the cost of getting the country through the crisis. A £2.5 billion funding gap is what they have left, according to James Jamieson, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association. That is more than the amount that will be raised in council tax, and the hon. Gentleman can do the maths as well as I can. That would not be necessary if the Secretary of State kept his promises.
The costs of social care this year will rise faster than any additional income that is being made available to pay for it, so the only choice the Government are giving all our town halls is to put up council tax while families are still suffering the effects of the recession, or to cut social care during an unprecedented global health pandemic. That is no choice at all, and it is why the Government have got this so badly wrong.
Older people have suffered enough, thanks to this Government’s failures. Over a third of all covid deaths in the UK have been in care homes because the Government were too slow on distributing personal protective equipment, too slow on rolling out testing and too slow to act on hospital discharges that seeded the disease in those very care homes.
Councils need funding to pay for the care older people deserve, and not just during this pandemic. Hard-working families need support to cope with the hit that their incomes have suffered over the past year. Struggling high street businesses need the Government to encourage spending, not choke it off. Councils of all political colours will be forced to put up council tax this year, not because they want to, but because the Government have left them with no real choice. The costs of covid will have to be paid for, but not by raising taxes on people who cannot afford it at a time when their incomes are under so much strain and the pandemic is still raging.
Make no mistake: this is a Conservative tax hike made in Downing street and imposed on hard-working families after the Government’s mistakes left our country facing the deepest recession of any major economy. We will not secure our economy by choking off spending, we will not protect the NHS by denying older people the care they need and we will not rebuild our country by killing off our high streets. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to think again and scrap their plans to force town halls to increase council tax at a time like this.