“The Labour Party must be crystal clear that if we enter government we will end austerity. This means concrete pledges to increase funding for public services, including local authorities.”
By Jon Trickett MP
It is nearly 13 years since the Tories first inflicted austerity on the people of Britain. Despite rhetoric in recent years that has suggested austerity is a thing of the past, the truth is that it continues to this day.
The recently released local government financial statement for 2023/24 is grim reading for austerity ravaged local councils who will be forced to make even more cuts in the future. Year on year the Tories expect councils to survive on less and less. Many councils are at their wits end because there is simply nothing left to cut.
According to the Institute for Government, central government grants to councils were cut by 37% in real terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20. Frontline services have taken a massive hit as a result. People across our country can no longer access the public services they need.
Unison the trade union recently collected data from 391 councils which found that almost nine in 10 have a predicted budget gap in the 2023/24 financial year.
The Local Government Association recently warned that councils are facing a £3bn-plus shortfall as a result of surging inflation. Councils urgently need an increase in funding, but the local government financial statement makes clear that they will not be receiving the support they need.
What does this mean for a council like Wakefield, which covers my constituency of Hemsworth?
House of Commons Library data shows that funding in real terms is down 40.4% since 2015/16. That means Wakefield Council is receiving £62.27 million less than it was in 2015/16.
A senior finance officer at Wakefield Council has said we’ve suffered funding cuts estimated to be worth around £300m since 2010. Even when you factor in the £20 million of so-called ‘levelling up’ funding, we have still received a massive cut.
Since 2015 the government has cut school funding by 7.5% or nearly £400 per pupil in Hemsworth constituency – higher than average cuts across Yorkshire and England. We’ve had hospital facilities close and the number of GPs drop. Bus routes have been cut to the bone.
Cuts on this scale are devastating wherever they’re implemented, but the outcome is even worse in an area like mine with high levels of deprivation and a history of economic neglect.
What we’re left with is crumbling public services and infrastructure and surging levels of poverty and deprivation.
Austerity has been a disaster for the British economy. Since 2010 economic growth has stagnated and now it looks like we’ll soon be tipping into recession. It was never an economic necessity but it was a political choice made by politicians who prioritised slashing taxes and privatisation over economic growth and public well-being.
It is within any government’s power to make different political choices. We could put an end to austerity and all the damage it has caused to our social fabric if the political will is there to do so.
In my view, the Labour Party must be crystal clear that if we enter government we will end austerity. This means concrete pledges to increase funding for public services, including local authorities.
It makes economic sense and is the only way to reverse the decline in living standards that working people have endured for years.
There are those who will ask how do we pay for it? To them we should have a simple answer: tax the richest in our society. Polling shows this has public support.
It’s not possible to end austerity without increasing taxes on the wealthiest and big business. Austerity has meant that wealth has been redistributed from working people to the richest in society. Therefore, ending austerity must mean redistributing wealth from the richest back to working people.
We cannot wait for future economic growth that may or may not come to start funding our public services properly. We need to increase the amount of tax coming in.
Despite the misleading claims from those defending the status quo that the tax burden is historically high, the truth is that corporation taxes and income taxes for the richest are at an all time low. If higher taxes are so bad then why was our economy performing much better before 2010 when tax rates were higher than they are now?
The public is sick of austerity and is ready for a new economic approach. The trade union movement has led the demands for an alternative since 2010. Now it is within our grasp, but only if the whole labour movement makes its voice heard to demand that the Labour Party ends austerity once and for all.
- Jon Trickett is the MP for Hemsworth and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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