Editors’ view: Local government cuts won’t help recovery from COVID

(10 February, 2021)

Central government needs to step in and commit more funding

35313Picture of the coronavirus

The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief how money worries, housing problems, and chronic health conditions whether mental or physical leave people in a highly vulnerable state to illnesses like COVID-19.

When the new virus came along, like many infectious illnesses, it soon became clear that although anyone can catch it, COVID is also a disease of poverty and disadvantage.

Overcrowded, damp or unsanitary housing plays a part. As do long-term health conditions including those exacerbated by air pollution.

People working in low paid, frontline jobs that can’t be done from home are also disproportionately affected.

And people who already live a hand to mouth existence are the first to suffer during a financial downturn.

Doctors and researchers are still learning about the complex factors that affect a patient’s ability to ward off the virus, and the role of ethnicity.

While research continues, the council is channeling much of its funding into housing and investing in support for people living in unsuitable homes and temporary accommodation.

But the ongoing problems it faces balancing its budget – a particularly difficult task given the speed with which it has stepped in to provide lifeline services since last March – show how little cash from central government has come their way.

Instead, local authorities are plugging gaps and increasingly having to roll out entirely new frontline services for the extremely vulnerable and self isolating.

They are doing this at a time when their spending power is severely curtailed and the proportion of Westminster funding has drastically dropped.

As we report this week, Southwark Council, despite fighting fires on all fronts, now only gets around nineteen per cent of its income from Westminster with the rest from local income generation.

Amid this backdrop, it has to make millions of cuts and efficiency savings, and draw on its reserve, to balance the books next financial year.

Trying not to lose sight of the key issues locally, it has still allocated £100,000 for its Southwark Stands Together project. This work is focused on tackling inequalities, for example through anti-racism, improving employment opportunities, and community cohesion. All vital to help the local recovery from COVID and change deep-seated inequalities.

But how successful can it be when so many key services and programmes that help achieve these aims are struggling for cash?

Whether it is planned permanent closure of the Fred Francis Day Centre, or losing funding for arts and culture, lack of funding has a knock-on impact on inequality and disadvantage.

COVID-19 is a global and national emergency. Central government needs to step up and ensure local authorities are not left picking up the cost  – otherwise it will be local people who pay the price.

Contribute
John Davies says:

I wouldnt give Southwark council another penny as they cannot be trusted with money. When they stop wasting millions and millions then maybe, until then, not a penny.

Karen Connolly says:

It’s true however one party rule in Southwark no accountability with decades of financial waste how can anything even begin to recover let alone build community trust and investment in vital services for this inequality gap if first they don’t admit from within LBS their systemic years of failings. Inequality happened years ago only now COVID highlighted it so someone needs to answer and admit as it will only get worse.

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