Local council services are an important part of our communities and how we live.
They are a safety net for when things go wrong, they bring communities together and help us to improve our quality of life.
Council services are essential – they can prevent vulnerable people from developing problems that must be dealt with by police or health services. For example, home care services, local transport and community centres help older and disabled people to tackle loneliness, stay healthy and lead more independent lives.
Since 2010, the government has cut £12.5bn from local services.
Since the Conservative-led coalition government introduced a wide-ranging programme of public spending cuts, councils have lost £12.5bn, almost 40% of their funding.
They have tried to manage severe cuts and keep services running by cutting jobs, shortening opening hours, introducing charges, and merging, privatising or closing services. These changes have been made across the board: almost no service has escaped the cuts unscathed.
Cuts have made everyday life more difficult for groups who are more likely to rely on council services regularly, like women, older and disabled people. For them, cuts to just one service, like a local bus route, can mean that they miss out on using other services, become more isolated and then need more intensive support.
What does the future hold for local government?
The election of a Conservative government in 2015 brought more terrible challenges for local services. George Osborne has confirmed plans to cut another £7bn of funding over the next five years. But some councils are already running a near-skeleton service for their communities.
They can only support the most serious, high-risk cases and run services that they have a legal obligation to provide.
At the same time, extra demands on council budgets – like inflation and waste management – are on the increase. In particular, the number of people who might need support from vital social care services is rising fast.
- In four years, the number of homeless families placed in bed and breakfast hotels has more than doubled, to 4,560.
- In 2014, there were over 4,300 more looked-after children than in 2010.
- Experts predict that in the next 15 years there will be over 20m people aged 60+ in the UK.
As the pressures on councils rise and the amount of money they can spend falls, all our local services are at risk of further cuts to fill the gaps. But community-focused services that councils do not have to legally provide are even more at risk of closure. Future cuts are forcing councils to make impossible choices – between libraries and leisure centres, social care and street lights, parks and potholes.
David Cameron and George Osborne’s cuts are part of their plan for local government: entirely paid for by local taxpayers without central support, a postcode lottery of services and a hugely reduced workforce with fewer rights.
What can we do to save local services?
UNISON wants local services that continue the long tradition of councils as the bedrock of their our communities, with proper funding so that services are secure for the long-term.
Councils need to be able to support everyone in the community, by offering free or low-cost services. These services depend on a committed workforce, who deserve decent pay and working conditions, not pay freezes and job cuts.
Recruiting new members and organising to campaign against cuts to local services is now more important than ever. If you work for a local service, make sure you talk to colleagues about joining UNISON and the impact of cuts on their jobs and working conditions. You can use SOS campaign resources and get support from your local branch to challenge council decisions about cuts.
Working together, we can save local services and make sure that much-needed support still exists for everyone’s benefit in the future.
UNISON is calling on the government to:
- Review how it allocates funding to local services so that it matches local need
- Find new sources of income that can be put towards local services by:-
- cracking down on tax evaders;
- bringing in new taxes on empty or high-value properties;
- allowing councils to borrow funding or introduce small local taxes,
- such as a tourism tax.
- Change the law so that councils must offer services that they don’t currently have a legal obligation to provide – like museums, parks and youth services
- Give fair and equal pay to all local government workers, with proper training and development opportunities.