Newham is one of the worst hit boroughs in the country. We have the second highest level of child poverty and the highest level of homelessness. We have had the highest furlough numbers, and our covid infection rates have regularly been among the highest in the country, especially during recent weeks. There are no signs that our difficulties are going away any time soon. In fact, I am afraid that many in Newham might not be able to get a vaccine for many months, despite significant vulnerability due to health conditions and ethnicity. The fact that we have a young population means that restrictions may well be placed on our local economy for longer, destroying the hopes that many had just a few weeks ago.
My constituents need to know that the decent public services and support on which they rely are going to continue. For that, at bare minimum, the Government will need to compensate our council fully for lost revenue and the added costs of covid. Sadly, the signs are not good. Currently, Newham Council estimates that it will lose £16 million of income this year due to the virus and will only be compensated for £8 million of that—barely half. Frankly, that has a real cost to people’s lives.
In Newham, a large number of small businesses, self-employed people and employees have been excluded from Government support. When support is not there—when it is not universal—discretionary council funds are all the more important, but with our very high levels of infection, almost all of Newham’s funding for self-isolation payments has been allocated. To beat the virus and support our overwhelmed NHS, we need more funding for discretionary payments, and we need it now.
We need a financial settlement that provides for necessary spending without raising taxes on our residents at this worst possible time. An increase in council tax can be ill afforded by my constituents, but the Government are providing no other option. The Chancellor said, “whatever it takes.” Well, let me tell him what it takes: it takes Government to properly fund councils, at the very least for covid costs. It takes the Government financially looking after everyone in need, including the excluded. We must not make the poorest pay for this crisis.