“Two weeks on from the Autumn Statement we’re still no clearer about some of the big issues that the Chancellor has failed to tackle in our region. Of course, we are all delighted that following hard-headed negotiations from across Tyne and Wear we heard the announcement of funding for a much-needed update to the Metro system, but it was disappointing that the Chancellor didn’t address the other crises our public services face.
Most notably absent was any reference to social care and how we try to square the circle of increasing need for help for our most vulnerable residents, whilst government grants to local authorities are being slashed (and expected to disappear completely by 2021). With an ageing population this poses a great challenge for councils in our region who are trying to find new ways of supporting our older and most vulnerable adults and children to live in their own home.
In Gateshead, we’ve seen a 52 per cent cut in government funding to the Council since 2010 and over half the council’s budget is now spent on the most vulnerable adults and children. Our local authorities are now consulting on their budgets for the next year and I would encourage people to get involved in their local consultation to make their voices heard.
I’m not holding my breath for a fairer local government settlement from the Tories to solve the problem. The big issue of social care needs much more attention and a clear plan to deal with an impending crisis. Unfortunately, the Government is running scared of the issue after floating their hugely unpopular “dementia tax” plans at the last General Election.
Of course, it’s not just councils that have been hit either: Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, Northumbria Police and many others are also facing huge cuts in government funding. Most of all, we as residents are feeling the impact.
There was nothing in the budget for Education, either, other than for Maths teaching. Maths teaching is of course hugely important, but many of our schools are struggling to balance their budget to provide the best education possible for our young people. Despite changes to the schools funding formula over the summer, 91% of schools are still facing a real-terms reduction in their budgets, as per-pupil funding has been reduced whilst pupil numbers are on the up. In short, the sums just don’t add up.
And then there’s public sector pay. The Chancellor tells us again and again that the public sector pay cap imposed by the Tories has gone, but staff right across the public sector are still seeing their pay fall in real terms whilst workload increases. It is not good enough to simply lift the cap. Phillip Hammond must now put his money where his mouth is by funding the NHS and all other public services properly. We can’t expect nurses or police officers to pay for their own pay rise by cutting their terms and conditions.
My office is as busy as ever, with many of my constituents waiting for their Universal Credit applications to be approved and finding themselves facing financial problems. Many must now wait until after Christmas for their first payment. The Chancellor’s announcement of changes to Universal Credit – a five week wait instead of six; two weeks’ roll on of Housing Benefit, an advance of up to a month’s Universal Credit – will do nothing to help people in Blaydon to cope with Christmas, let alone their day to day living expenses.
That’s why I am hugely grateful to the folk at Gateshead Foodbank, who have distribution points in Blaydon and now in Birtley, for the work they do in trying to fill the gap, to make sure people can cope over Christmas and have some festive cheer as the rest of us will. I keep repeating it, but it remains true: I thank them for their work but it shouldn’t be necessary in this day and age.
This budget has failed to tackle the real issues that people face right across the North East region. It is a “Nothing Has Changed” budget.”
You can watch and read Liz’s contribution to the Budget debate below. Liz said:
“I declare an interest as an elected member of Gateshead Council.
I want to speak about what is not in this Budget, because those things are important to my constituents in Blaydon, many of whom are struggling to cope with daily life and supporting their family. First, I want to mention the absence of any reference to social care. We all know that the demand for social care is growing, and we know from experience that it is essential that people have access to high-quality social care when they need it, but the Government continue to cut the local authority budgets that go towards providing that support.
In my council of Gateshead, we spend more than half our budget on the most vulnerable adults and children. Our funding has been cut by 52% since 2010, and the number of people who use and need our services is rising. I checked the Tory manifesto earlier and found this on long-term care:
“Where others have failed to lead, we will act.”
But there is no action on social care in this Budget.
There is nothing in this Budget for education, other than for maths teaching. Maths teaching is, of course, hugely important, but many of our schools are struggling to balance their budget so that they can provide the best education possible for our young people, and, despite changes to the schools funding formula over the summer, 91% of schools still face a real-terms reduction in their budgets as per pupil funding has reduced. We may have a commitment to maths funding, but increasing pupil numbers and increasing demands versus decreasing funding means that the sums do not add up for schools.
On housing, we had a raft of measures that the Chancellor says will increase house building, but the announcements fall far short of a proper plan to help to fix the housing crisis. We need all councils to build again to create the houses we need.
I heard the Chancellor repeat this morning that the public sector pay cap has gone. But NHS workers, who were specially mentioned by the Chancellor, will receive an increase only on condition that they increase productivity by renegotiating their terms and conditions under “Agenda for Change”. This does not just affect the NHS; for staff right across the public sector, work has increased and pay has fallen in real terms. The Government need not only to lift the cap that they imposed, but to fund the NHS, local government, fire and rescue services, the police, education, the delivery of universal credit and many other areas, to give those staff the rise that they need, without further reducing services.”
I spoke in the Universal Credit debate last night. Universal Credit is being rolled out for most of Blaydon Constituency on the 1st November. We know from experience that Universal Credit is causing real problems including increased debt and more reliance on Gateshead Foodbank as people wait at least 6 weeks for their first payment. The Government must pause the roll out.
You can watch my contribution below:
“I was going to talk about the real problems experienced in my constituency—initially with the live service, the comparatively straightforward bit. I was going to talk about the huge amount of help needed by people applying for universal credit. I was going to talk about the delays in payments, and the practical problems that that causes, and about the arrears that people on universal credit are experiencing: an average of £625, as against the general average of £121. I was going to talk about the evidence that private landlords are beginning to refuse tenancies to people on universal credit and about the fear that some children could go without free school meals while their parents wait for their claims to be assessed, which is a problem that we really need to look at.
But the House has heard about all that from everyone else, so instead I am going to talk about Gateshead Foodbank, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). In 2016 it issued 4,861 food parcels to keep families going, largely owing to the roll-out of live universal credit—and that is before we see full service.
This is about people. It is about families and children who are building up debt and going without, choosing between heat and food and making other difficult choices, and experiencing all the frustration of dealing with the new system. I ask the Government to think again about pausing. We have talked about “test, learn and rectify”; let us do that.”
Commenting on Labour research demonstrating the impact that 5 more years of Conservative government on local bus services, Liz Twist MP for Blaydon commented:
“The Tories’ policy of deregulating bus services has been a total failure: across Blaydon constituency we have seen fares rise as patronage has plummeted. In the North-East bus passenger journeys have fallen by 26 million since 2010.
“Labour will extend the powers to re-regulate local bus services to Gateshead Council if it wants them – not just to those combined authorities with an elected mayor, so that bus services can be ran in the interests of passengers. There are too many areas in North-East where pensioners have a bus pass but no bus.
“For too long the bus industry has been allowed to put profit before passengers. A Labour Government will change that.”