Budget 2017: backtracking on 7 years of Tory damage, but missing the path to repairing our public services

DURING HIS budget speech today the Chancellor called the Tories the Government of the future. There were certainly a lot of superficial giveaways designed to make us feel good and massage the chronic problems our country faces, but they failed even to boost the energy of backbench Tories.

Hardly surprising when you scratch beneath the surface and the Chancellor’s statement and very little has been done to plug the gaping wounds opened by 7 years of Tory rule.

Tighten your belts; live within your means; we’re all in this together. These were the watch words from the then Coalition Government.

That was seven years ago and things haven’t settled, they have reached breaking point. None more so than local council services.

In that time a staggering £16bn has been cut from core council budgets with even more pain ahead as a £5.8bn funding gap approaches.

Over 800,000 workers have been lost at a time when demand for services has increased significantly.

Adult social care demands have rocketed and that’s despite the fact that over 1million older people no longer get care support they would have previously been entitled to.

Today the local government workforce, the foundations of our local public services are at the lowest number since comparable records began, while at the same time central government is at its highest.

Our children’s services are under immense pressure as safeguarding referrals rockets to 170,000, up from 71,800 just ten years ago.

And the weight of this burden has fallen on those who stay on.

Our local public sector workers are some of the lowest paid in the public sector. Though some 60,000 will get an increase with the introduction of the living wage they will remain on low incomes as the cost of living far outstrips the money they are paid. The pay cap has added significantly to this.

With the original pay freeze and the current pay cap pressing down real term wages the average rise since 2010 has totalled just 4.4% when the cost of living has increased by 22%.

And it has a real effect. Stress, depression, anxiety, mental health and fatigue now account for a quarter of all sickness absence.

Council children’s social worker recruitment is a real problem as wages are held down, pressure and workload increased and the prospect of career progression seriously affected. Now 74% of councils report problems with recruiting children’s social workers.

So far our local government workers continue to do amazing things and serve our communities well. But they have taken too much of the burden and it is simply not sustainable to continue to ask them to pay the seven year price of austerity caused through no fault of their own.

If Britain is to succeed we must build our future on solid foundations. Our public services are an important part of that.

Our public sector workers need a pay rise and should have been at the front and centre as the Chancellor, sadly it wasn’t a priority for him, and on that I think he is out of step with the rest of country.

Instead, local public services and the communities continue to pay the price of austerity set throughout 7 years of Tory command and control.

Labour values our public services and we would pay them fairly for the important role they play.

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