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On the brink of social collapse

Over 14 million people are living in “persistent poverty” in Britain

On the brink of social collapse

Britain is on the brink of "social collapse" after "eight years of uninterrupted austerity" caused by brutal Tory spending cuts, Labour council leaders warned. Twenty-six leaders of Labour-controlled councils have signed an open letter calling on the government to "recognise the catastrophic impact" that austerity has had on local authorities across Britain.

The statement, released under the banner of Councils Against Austerity, says budgets have been squeezed by direct government cuts and other pressures. Pointing out that the shortage of funding has had a "disastrous knock-on effect" on services, the council leaders said that nearly half of all local authorities nationwide have experienced serious setbacks in their daily operations and increasing numbers are cutting all services to a bare minimum.

The leaders warn that many councils will soon be unable to perform the basic level of service expected of them, with street cleaners, park maintenance workers, library staff and other municipal workers facing an uncertain future.

They also pointed to a "huge increase" in crime, a surge in homelessness and food bank usage and the overall decline in life expectancy in arguing that Britain is heading for "infrastructural and social collapse" if the current economic model is not abandoned.

The statement, which was orchestrated by Salford Metro Mayor Paul Dennett, coincided with a Local Government Association report predicting that councils across Britain will have lost about 77 per cent of their budget by the 2020 local elections, and councils, such as Northamptonshire, have begun to collapse due to financial stress.

The council leaders call for a "needs-led approach" to funding in local government and for a reversal of the unpopular policy of business rates retention as an alternative to central government funding, which causes a race to the bottom between local government authorities.

They also say that local authorities need more freedom to create and set local taxes and to retain far more local revenue than at present so that they have more discretion in deciding how to deal with specific problems in their localities.

Speaking to the Star, Mr Dennett said that austerity is "an affront to basic human dignity" that must be ended immediately. "Austerity is a heartless, vicious political option which has had truly appalling effects all across the country, but particularly in working-class cities like Salford," he said. "In my city, food bank usage and homelessness are skyrocketing and countless others are kept awake at night wondering how they will make ends meet.

"This statement wants to simply tell Theresa May: 'Your policies are tearing the country apart.'

"'Ordinary people need you and your government to drop these harmful and aggressive policies or stand aside and let Labour do the people of this country right instead'."

Meanwhile, more than 14 million people in Britain live in "persistent poverty," a new report by the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) has found. Of these 8.4m were working-age adults, 4.5m children and 1.4m people were of pension age. Additionally, 2.5m residents are at risk of falling into poverty, the report suggested.

Labour's shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova said: "It is shocking that under this government, almost half of those living in poverty are disabled or live with someone who is. "This report definitively shows the devastating impact of social security cuts on disabled people and their families."

The SMC was brought together to develop what it says is a new approach to poverty measurement, accounting for the impact of "inescapable" costs such as childcare on weekly income, and the impact that disability has on people's needs. It also aims to include groups of people previously omitted from poverty statistics, like those living on the streets or in overcrowded housing.

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: "The government's strategy to tackle poverty consists of trying to mask the deep cuts it has made to social security by disputing the numbers of people in poverty. "The new measure importantly shows the impact of debt, housing and childcare costs, and the extra costs that disabled people face. The extent of poverty it reveals among disabled people and their families is a major concern given the severe cuts to support to them in Universal Credit."

Labour will put tackling poverty at the heart of government policy by ending the social security freeze, introducing a £10 Real Living Wage and building the affordable housing that is "desperately needed," she added. The Scottish National Party has called on the government to take "urgent action" at the Budget to tackle poverty following the report's findings.

A government spokeswoman said: "Measuring poverty is complex, and this report offers further insight into that complexity and the additional measures that can be taken into consideration. "This government is committed to making a positive difference to the outcomes for poor and disadvantaged families and children."

(Courtesy: Morning Star. The author is the Editor of Morning Star daily. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Ben Chacko

Ben Chacko

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