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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

The Damage of the Austerity Decade

Friday, 10 July 2020

One of the themes I keep coming back to in these blogs is the impact of ten years of austerity on local authorities, especially those in the North of England. Since 2010, as a result of a series of political, deliberate decisions and choices made by coalition and Conservative governments, the ability of councils to carry out basic functions such as bin collections, adult social care and provision of libraries (to name but a few) has been significantly diminished. Sometimes that has taken the form of direct cuts to our budgets while in other cases, such as with council tax and the adult social care precept, the government has shifted the financial burden onto local taxpayers instead of providing the money directly.

Now a new report, released last month by the influential Manchester-based Institute for Public Policy Research North (IPPR North) lays bare the true scale of the damage wrought by the austerity decade. From 2010 to 2019, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Whitehall department responsible for supporting and overseeing councils across the country, slashed its spending by 86%. This translated into £278.53 less being spent on local government per person in England, a fall of 13%. Like many of the cuts, this fell harder in the North of England where local government spending fell by 20%, equal to £346.94 per person. The same trend can be seen in cuts to public sector jobs, which fell by 19% in the North compared to 16% in England, and investment spending, which fell in the North to 29% in 2010 to 25% in 2019 while it actually rose from 29% to 37% between the same period in London and the South East.


Behind these economic facts and figures lies a truly appalling human cost.

It can be seen from the first stage of life in the slow erosion of opportunity for our children and young people. 200,000 more children in the North now live in poverty since the beginning of austerity, and 4,580 children in the North West are living in temporary or emergency accommodation in 2019, a scarcely believable 402% increase from 910 in 2009.

When those children grow up, it can be seen in the shortage in growth of high-quality jobs. The kind of jobs that would provide them with training, career progression or even a wage that lets them keep a roof over their head and food on the table.

And finally, when they grow older, it can be seen in the increase in elderly and vulnerable residents forced to stay in hospital for longer than they need to because adult social care services do not have the capacity to look after them at home.

Our welfare system was created from the dream that people would be looked after “from cradle to grave”, but for many now the reality is one of deprivation and neglect.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that for too long those at the highest levels of national government have known the cost of everything but the value of nothing. There can be no going back to the dark days of the austerity decade. The report concludes, and I fully agree, that money spent in helping people and places to realise their potential is not a liability, but an investment that will pay itself back money times over. Instead of continual rhetoric on “levelling up”, the North needs the funding and the power to build a new future with economic fairness and environmental sustainability at its very heart.

If we’d done this back in 2010 instead of pursuing the false logic of austerity, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have not only been in a far better position to confront the coronavirus pandemic but we would be a richer and, most importantly, a healthier and kinder country. We cannot change the past, but we can and must make the right choices now to not make repeat those mistakes and secure a better future.


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