Friday, 2 December 2016

Autumn Statement – austerity revisited

Sober reflection on the Autumn Statement confirms that the last six years of the Conservative’s (with Liberal Democrat support) so-called ‘long-term economic plan’, with austerity at the heart, have simply been disastrous for the short-, medium- and long-term health of UK plc.

George Osborne’s unique triumph as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to have missed each and every one of the economic and fiscal targets. These weren’t targets imposed by outsiders. These were the targets he had set himself.

The Autumn Statement ditched every one of the key forecasts that George Osborne had asserted in March this year:
  • Economic growth was revised downwards for both next year and 2018
  • Wage growth has been revised downwards, not just for this year and next but also for the three years to 2020
  • The National Living Wage is now going to be lower for the next 4 years, with an estimated 2.7 million workers seeing a direct total cut in their incomes of up to £1,324 by 2020
  • Business investment has been revised downwards for each year to 2020, and
  • Productivity has been revised downwards for next year and then in each year to 2020.
If all that weren’t sufficient bad news, the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto pledged to double UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. But the Office of Budget Responsibility has now confirmed that the Government is set to miss this target by £329 billion.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the UK deficit is expected to rise by £122bn by 2020/21, of which some £59bn is being directly attributed to Brexit.

Further, there was no additional money for
  • the NHS, experiencing its first real-terms cut since it was founded. It is no surprise that waiting-times and waiting-lists for out-patient and in-patient services are rising each and every day;
  • adult social care, which is approaching a crisis and exacerbating NHS problems as discharges from hospital are being held up because of a lack of community care support;
  • education, suffering its first real-terms cut since the 1970s. Little wonder that, in most schools, teaching and teaching assistant numbers are falling. It is just disgraceful that £60m pa is being diverted to the grammar school’s vanity project, which will do nothing for raising achievement or for social mobility.
It is not hard to understand why so many people are angry, concerned and worried about the prospects for themselves, their families and their communities.

To turn our country and our economy around will require a patient long-term investment strategy focused on exploiting our strengths in science, technology, and the creative industries. There is no sense that the current government has either the will or the policies to make this happen.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

We should be very, very worried.

There’s a triple whammy heading straight towards us.

It’s the triple whammy of a lack of social care expenditure, NHS services deteriorating in response, and the re-distribution of social care and NHS resources from the poorest to the wealthiest areas.

These whammies aren’t happening by chance, but because of the choices the Government are making.
Social care funding was slashed by £4.6billion during the last Parliament. Spending on adult social care has dropped further since 2015, despite demand increasing with a rapidly ageing society.

For most councils with adult social care functions, it consumes more than 35% of their total budget; in some. Last year, councils diverted £900 million from other services to maintain adult social and have a projected £500m overspend this year.

The additional revenue from the 2% council tax precept in 2015/16 did not even meet the additional cost of the Living Wage changes .

The number of over-65s receiving social care from local councils has fallen by a quarter – more than 400,000 mainly elderly people - since 2010 .Three-quarters of people who apply for social care are now being turned away.. Over the same period, 1,500 care homes have closed - that’s almost one in ten of the total. 

This is hitting the poorest areas hardest. Since 2010, social care spending has fallen by £65 per person in the most deprived areas  like South Yorkshire, but risen by £28 per person in the wealthiest areas . 

In Sheffield, we are very lucky to have some of the best-performing health and hospital services in the country. They have consistently done well against all performance indicators and consistently achieved that within budget. But, the latest statistics and forecasts should worry us all. For instance, in the first half of 2013, just 6% of people waited more than 4 hours in A&E in Sheffield; this year it is 20%. And we haven’t got to the winter periods yet.

Nationally and locally, there are longer waits to see a GP, hospital beds are full and a £2.45 billion deficit in the NHS – the worst on record.

“Bedblocking” - where people are stranded on hospital wards because there is no social care available for them when they leave - stands at record levels, costing hospitals £820 million a year. In September, we saw the highest number of delayed discharge days since records began. There has also been an 18% increase in A&E admissions of elderly people since 2010.

I have been highlighting the scale of this problem for more than 12 months. Over the last few weeks, every independent commentator, including the government’s own Care Quality Commission, has been shouting about the scale of the problem.
But, in the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor said not a word. It was both extraordinary and disgraceful. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Housing failure for the many; merry dancing for the few.

Last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that the measures announced in the Autumn Statement will actually further slow housebuilding. It said there will be 13,000 fewer affordable homes over the next five years.

Between 1997 and 2010, the government delivered two million more homes, a million more home-owners and the biggest investment in social housing in a generation. By contrast, the Coalition and Conservative governments’ record on housing is six years of failure on all fronts.

Under Cameron and Clegg, we built fewer homes than under any Prime Minister since 1923. The number of homeowning households fell by 200,000 under their stewardship.

The latest figures reveal that just 141,680 homes were built in the year to September 2016, some 20% lower than the 176,640 built nine years ago. Young people have been hardest hit. The number of under-35s who own their own home is down by 21% since 2010, that’s 344,000 homes.

The number of shared ownership and other low-cost home ownership homes built has fallen by 66% since 2010 to just 7,540 homes last year.

The number of social rented homes started in 2009/10 was almost 40,000, but last year, in 2015/16 was less than 1,000 – a fall of 98%, and the lowest level since records began. The overall number of affordable homes to buy and rent being built has fallen to the lowest level in 24 years.

In 2010, the Cameron and Clegg coalition cut investment in affordable homes by 60%. Nine in ten of the genuinely affordable homes built between 2010 and 2015 were under programmes inherited from the former government.
Similarly, private renters have been failed badly in the last six years. The latest figures show that 29% of private rented homes are ‘non-decent’. Private rents on new lettings have reached an average of almost £900 per month– an annual increase of over £2,000 since 2010.

Despite the concerns about housing standards, the government has opposed proposals to ensure all rented homes are ‘fit for human habitation’ when let and throughout the course of the tenancy.

Now the government is preparing to relax the protections on building in the Green Belt. The big housing developers, who are sitting on record levels of housing land already with planning permission for development and declaring record levels of profit, are dancing with glee.