We are finally seeing more detail about the Spending Review cuts announced by the Tory-Lib Dem Government last week. Worryingly it’s much worse than feared. There is an all-out assault on poor people, on social housing, on schools and on women, with services for the old, the sick, the disabled, children and the unemployed facing deep cuts.
Before the election Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it would be ‘dangerous’ to make any cuts at all this year because of the risk to the economy – but now he and his Lib Dem friends are enthusiastically backing the most savage wave of Tory cuts to hit public services since the Second World War. I’m left wondering if there’s ever been a more deceitful politician in British public life than Nick Clegg – no wonder the Lib Dems’ poll rating has plummeted since people found out what they really stand for.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in Parliament that cuts to local government would be 7.1% a year for four years, adding up to 28.4% overall. That would have been bad enough, but the truth is far worse than his slippery announcement made out. Poorer areas like Lambeth are being hit harder, and instead of cutting 7.1% next year as the chancellor implied, the cuts have been massively front-loaded. Next April Lambeth will face cuts of around 17% or around £40 million in just one year. Further cuts over the following three years will bring the total cuts up to £90 million out of a total budget of £310 million. There is no way to shield people entirely from cuts on that scale.
Services will close, others will be reduced, and others will see the introduction of charges. We will see care services taken away from some older people, more children taught in portakabins instead of classrooms, libraries may close, streets will be cleaned less often, childcare will be cut back, school support services will vanish, council homes will be not be repaired and overcrowding will increase. This is the reality of the Lib Dems and Tories’ decision to cut public services faster and harder than is necessary. The end result of all this will be an increase in human misery.
The Spending Review included an astonishing attack on people living in social housing – that’s council housing and housing owned by housing associations. Rents for new tenants will soar by over 300% – rising from around £80 a week to over £300. Benefits for poor families will be capped so they are forced to move out of more expensive areas like inner London – including most of Lambeth. London Councils estimates 82,000 families will be forced to move in what even Boris Johnson has described as ‘Kosovo-style social cleansing’. People under 35 will no longer be eligible for housing benefit if they live in their own flat, and there is a proposal to end secure tenancies. Alongside the 64% cut in funding for refurbishing and repairing council housing this adds up to a full-scale assault on poor people. How many people living on housing estates in Lambeth knew this is what the local Lib Dems were secretly plotting when they said – quite dishonestly – they would stand up for better council homes?
Our Labour councillors will do all we can to protect people from this Lib Dem and Tory-inspired onslaught. We have announced plans to join up services and share costs with neighbouring councils in Southwark and Lewisham to save money. We will continue the war on waste that’s already found £30m in savings over the past three years. And we will transform services by delivering them in new ways where that’s an alternative to closing or cutting them. Our cooperative council plans will help us do that by harnessing the creativity and energy of our communities. But the truth is, these cuts will hurt. We’ve already seen the return of families forced into bed and breakfast accommodation because the Tory-Lib Dem cuts have meant landlords are pulling out of renting to sell off their properties. Now people can see the reality of voting Lib Dem I suspect many of them will follow the elderly lady I met last week and vow never to make that mistake again.