By Bjorn Simpole, Vice Chair of Tunbridge Wells Constituency Labour Party .
The 2010 coalition government promised to get rid of the budget deficit and reduce the country’s debt. What followed were some of the toughest austerity measures since the war aimed at cutting funding to most of our public services, many of these at local level.
Over eight years government grants to local authorities have been reduced by nearly 50%. We were told to bear the pain in order to build a strong economy, but the deficit has still not been eliminated. Under the Conservatives government debt has risen to an eye watering £1.8 trillion, and vital public services continue to be starved of funding. Just before BREXIT, our economy is far from strong.
Austerity and cuts to local services have consequences. Families are hit by the rising cost of living, frozen benefits and stagnant wages. As a result, almost 1 in 6 children in Tunbridge Wells are affected by child poverty. In Sherwood ward it is almost 1 in 3. Growing up in poverty makes children less likely to do well in their education, get a good job or own their own home.
At a time when we should be investing in the future of our children, provision in our Children’s Centres and local community services has been scaled back. Last week Kent County Council decided to slash support for breast feeding services by £400,000.
Specialist services – which my partner and I accessed for my new baby in the last few weeks – will no longer be available and it is those least able to pay for private help or able to travel long distances for services who will suffer the most in future.
We have a crisis in adult social care with older people finding it increasingly difficult to find affordable care or nursing homes. Record numbers of children are being referred to social services at a time when councils barely have sufficient funding to run statutory services.
As a result of Kent’s £500m backlog our roads are unrepaired and potholed, and since police numbers have been cut crime is rising.
Austerity isn’t working but it is ruining our public services and weakening the togetherness of our communities. Those who can’t afford to pay to access the support they need are having to go without, resulting in some of the poorest families and areas being hit the hardest.
High housing costs and low local wages are a lethal cocktail for residents who are just about or not really managing, and the failure of the Conservatives nationally and locally to invest in new genuinely affordable and social housing is a disgrace. They blame each other for who is responsible for this but they are ‘all in it together’.
Instead of challenging austerity and focusing on the big issues facing people in the borough, Cllr Jukes and his council colleagues are hell-bent on spending £90m on deeply unpopular new council offices, an underground car park and theatre. Labour is fighting to end austerity, for an end to cuts in local services, and to put the real needs of our residents first.