The past year has been a real struggle for many with more than 19 million people (38% of British adults) having faced a loss of income since the start of the pandemic and the number of people in severe debt has risen to 1.8 million, according to research carried out by the charity Stepchange. Jobs and wages are under attack from ruthless employers, and all the while the cost of living creeps ever upwards. The arrival of increased Council Tax bills for households around the country will only add to the misery.
As the furlough scheme begins to wind-down for the 4.7 million workers (many of whom are young hospitality workers and women) who have relied on it throughout the pandemic – the Tory government is already looking at ways to squeeze public spending, affecting the very people who need it most. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, cuts of more than £50 billion to spending, compared to pre-pandemic conditions, are on the cards.
A decade of Tory austerity and cuts have placed a massive strain on councils as they try to balance the books while slashing much needed public services. Many local council budgets have been “stretched to breaking point” – indeed several councils, such as Croydon and Northampton have even declared themselves bankrupt.
BBC analysis in 2020 revealed the scale of the problem councils are facing, with nearly 150 forecasting a combined budget shortfall of at least £3.2 billion. Even though the typical council tax bill will rise by 4.3% this year, more councils may have to declare themselves effectively bankrupt unless the government provides more funding. Last month, four councils in England were given emergency funding so they could balance their books and avoid bankruptcy.
Over the past decade council tax bills have risen much higher than inflation, putting an ever bigger strain on households trying to make ends meet. No single council planned a council tax rise less than the 0.7% inflation rate – even though unemployment has soared by 750,000 since the pandemic began. Residents in London are being made to pay even more council tax as Boris Johnson forced London Mayor Sadiq Khan to hike taxes or end free public transport for young people and over 60’s. Burning public anger has been simmering in recent years and any more cuts to public services could be the catalysis that leads to mass action.
The Tory promise of giving councils the funding they needed to get communities through the Covid crisis has proved to be just hollow words – which are of little worth to the millions of people burdened with increased council tax bills, while at the same time councils continue to shut down vital public services. Nine out of ten councils in 2020/21 will have overspent, even after limited emergency government funding, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).
Socialist Alternative have called on councils to set ‘no cuts’ budgets and to stand up to the Tories for the extra funding needed to provide all the services needed. Councils should link up with trade unions and local communities as part of a mass campaign to demand more funding from central government. The example of Liverpool in the 1980s, who won more money from Thatcher’s government, shows what is possible . We welcome services being taken back ‘in house’ and away from the profit driven privateers, who’s only motive is money instead of service. Years of cuts can only be truly reversed by changing the system that inflicted those cuts – capitalism. All public services can, and should, be fully funded – especially since the wealth has always been there. The problem has always been the inequality embedded within capitalism and the hoarding of wealth by the 1%. That system won’t be cured by tinkering around the edges, it needs to be completely replaced by socialism!
Having fully accountable public services, run for communities and not for profit hungry businesses is possible, but not under Tory or Labour MP’s and councillors tied to the capitalist system. This system has proven itself to be bankrupt and only a democratically planned economy, providing the services and jobs we all need can replace it. Get involved with Socialist Alternative and join the fight back against council cuts and for a better world!