I spoke to a wheelchair user last week who campaigns for disability rights for people around the country. He told me, you have to remember that for someone severely disabled, a Council is their life support machine. Many cannot even leave their own home and that people around the country are living in fear because it feels like they are living their lives with someone standing there with their finger on the button ready to switch that machine off.
In Brent’s budget, our areas of overspend were in adult social care, due to an expected rise in clients needing care and children in care. If a legal budget wasn’t passed this year by Brent, I wouldn’t want to leave it the likes of Eric Pickles and his auditors, who would be licking their lips at the prospect of slashing these areas of overspend.
There has been talk from Lib Dem and Tory Councillors that we should use reserves to keep libraries open, but Brent has increased reserves due to the additional service pressures that there are. This includes a provision for potential increased costs in temporary accommodation. We could have to house poorer people in Brent outside of London when the changes to housing benefit kick in. The Liberal Tories are imposing these policies, and our Council Budget is feeling the blow.
I understand the pain that many local people will have in having to travel an extra half an hour to get to their nearest library. I really do and I will have to too. But let’s also spare a thought for people who will have to travel over two hours before they can get anywhere near Brent and their families and their communities because of the Government’s housing policy changes and the exodus of poorer people from London.
In anticipation of the pain that poorer people will experience, Brent Labour did win a reprieve for the Brent Private Tenant Rights Group, the Brent Citizens Advice Bureau and the Brent Law Centre who help the most vulnerable people in Brent.
I have heard many threats to Labour Councillors saying we will never vote for you again, and that you have betrayed your Labour values – I tell them to look again. Look at the groups we managed to secure some reprieve for at the last hour.
Many of my colleagues were out with me at the TUC March last month, because we believe that the way in which the Government is going about tackling this deficit is fundamentally wrong. We fundamentally disagree with the shrinking of the welfare state, the depth of cuts and the privatisation to our NHS, the trebling of tuition fees increasing the burden of debt to the youngest in our society, the depth of cuts to our police force and the depth of cuts to our Council.
Yes there’s disappointment in some of the cuts Brent Council is making if you look at them in isolation. But let’s look at it in the context of having to make the whole £40 plus million in cuts this year and see that Labour did not desert the life supporting services to the lives of many vulnerable people in Brent, when other Councils have viewed them as an easy cut.
Whether it is your local library, the school your children go to, your local police force, your University, your college, your NHS, or your home, no one is unaffected by these cuts and it is all because of the political choice to address the whole deficit within one Parliament rather than fifty percent of it, which is the Labour alternative. An economic policy that the Tories campaigned for and the Liberals campaigned against, but changed their mind on a few days after the election.