CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

There’s no end in sight for austerity

OPINION: Council leader Georgia Gould says last week's budget will mean more cuts and more pain

05 November, 2018 — By Georgia Gould

I RECEIVED a phone call this week from a friend who’d spent one too many evenings listening to me talk about local government cuts, saying “you must be excited about the announcement in the Budget”.

I had to break it to her that local government is still facing a planned further cut of £1.3billion, so the announcement of £650million for adult social care, at best, means a smaller cut to vital services that are already under massive strain.

Camden Council still faces the same urgent £40million gap in our budget that we did last week. We continue to feel the scars from the £169million we’ve already been forced to cut by the Conservatives since 2010.

Austerity has become so toxic even it’s cheer leaders are trying to pretend they’re no longer doing it. But it is not over, and it’s deepening.

Austerity for me is mums and dads coming to my surgery carrying their children and trying to hide their tears and whisper their desperation so their kids don’t see how scared they are.

I have seen things I never thought possible in our community.

I’ve spoken to a man at a homeless shelter who had come back from a day’s work in a local shop to sleep on the floor of a church because he had nowhere else to go.

I’ve met a parent working two jobs, caring for an elderly relative and disabled child, who was facing eviction from the flat they rent in the private sector because of housing benefit changes.

Our society is failing workers, families, disabled people, and worst of all peddling a myth that people’s lives are falling apart because they’re not “striving” hard enough.

In Camden we have managed to protect people from some of the worst ravages of austerity. As a Labour council we have been determined to keep our public services and social infrastructure so our residents have somewhere to turn. Our libraries, Sure Start centres, youth clubs, advice services, and community centres, are still there anchoring our communities.

We made a commitment that no one would be evicted because of the bedroom tax and we have the lowest number of families in temporary accommodation in central London.

We have reclaimed our mantle as one of the country’s most ambitious proponents of public housing, building over 250 new council homes across the borough since 2010 with over 450 planned over the next three years.

When the government cut the money for our schools we stepped in and invested more than £80million in our school buildings, allowing our schools to stay as a Camden family, connected to our community. Compare this with Conservative Barnet, just down the road.

The council there have responded by mass outsourcing, hollowing out public services, and tearing down hundreds of council homes.

Eight years into austerity the work to protect Camden’s public services, spirit, and social mix is harder than ever.

Everywhere I look services are straining.

Queues are growing outside foodbanks, operations are being cancelled and more people are being forced to choose between heating their homes, feeding their families, and making rent. This winter universal credit comes to Camden – the government’s programme of welfare reform which has seen a 50 per cent increase in foodbank use in other areas.

I visit wards across the borough where people are getting used to seeing drug dealing and anti-social behaviour outside their homes. The local police are trying to meet the need but, with 264 fewer officers, they are stretched.

Organisations that have scrimped and saved – because they have no choice – are now facing black holes they don’t know how to fill. This is the moment to stand together and say enough is enough. In Camden we are custodians of a great radical history that has seen our communities come together to tackle problems and to bring about real social change.

We have stood against the politics of division, scarcity, and fear before and we can do it again. Together we can end austerity and build a society where we leave no one behind.

Georgia Gould is Labour leader of Camden Council and councillor for Kentish Town.

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