Local Government Finance debate – Liverpool deserves more

In Parliament yesterday, a debate took place on Local Government Finance. I spoke in the debate – highlighting again the harsh cuts made by the Government towards Liverpool.

The whole of the debate can be read at: http://bit.ly/1uIUyE6

I asked:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): If the Minister listened carefully to representations and wanted to be fair, how can the outcome be that Liverpool, the most deprived local authority in the country, is suffering some of the harshest cuts?

This is the reply I received:

Kris Hopkins: We need to recognise—I have said this before—that the 10% most deprived authorities receive on average 40% more than the most wealthy authorities. It is right that we create a formula to ensure the more vulnerable and deprived areas get that response, but we should not just measure on the basis of what moneys have been allocated. Local authorities now have the ability to raise money and are rewarded for building houses. I would also point out that the growth deals associated with Liverpool are significant and are led by local leaders.

Later on in the debate I made this contribution to the House:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Whatever the Government’s protestations, it is absolutely clear that the settlement is grossly unfair to Liverpool, the most deprived local authority in the country. The settlement can only be construed as part of an ongoing attack on public services.

This year, individual residents of Liverpool will in effect each receive a cut to their local services of more than £391. By 2017, Liverpool city council will have suffered an astounding real-terms cut of 58% to its funding from central Government. That is devastating. The city’s deprivation is mirrored in its tax base, and 77% of homes in Liverpool are in the lower council tax bands, A and B, which means that only 9% of the city council’s budget can be raised through the council tax. In West Oxfordshire, 49% of the budget can be raised through the council tax, because of the wealth of the area.

Mayor Anderson and his council are doing a valiant job in difficult circumstances. They are building new homes, and more than 2,500 have come on stream this year, which has produced more than £3.5 million in additional revenue, but that cannot match the massive cuts by central Government.

The council has set a three-year budget to bring stability and has carefully examined threatened services. By looking at new ways to fund libraries it has managed to save the city’s libraries. When the Government withdrew funding for schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme, the council found a way of building the most essential schools. It has also protected Sure Start and children’s centres, although some cuts have been made and, sadly, those services are again being reviewed because of the new cuts being imposed by this Government. Reserves have been spent as far as it is prudent to do so —by 2017 the city’s reserves will be down to £17.6 million —and they cannot be reduced further if the council is to act prudently.

Despite all those measures the council has taken in becoming increasingly efficient and looking for innovative ways of funding public services and creating new revenue streams, vital services are being attacked. The most important and concerning crisis being faced at the moment is on vital packages of social care. Social care is support to enable people who are ill, elderly or disabled to live in their own home in dignity. When this Government came into power, 15,000 people in Liverpool had support through social care packages, enabling them to live a dignified life, whereas now, as a direct result of Government cuts, that is down to 9,000 people—6,000 people have been deprived of care, despite rising needs. Unless something dramatic happens, the figure will reduce even further. That puts people’s lives at risk and robs them of their dignity. It also affects hospital admissions, because it means that, increasingly, people who are well are not able to leave hospital because appropriate care is not available for them.

Liverpool’s council is enterprising. I was horrified last year when the Minister in charge of local funding at the time said from the Treasury Bench that he thought Liverpool was a city where people wanted to doff their caps. That was a horrendous statement to make; Liverpool is a proud city. It deserves support, it acts enterprisingly and it helps itself. Increasing numbers of jobs have been brought to Liverpool, and in two months’ time Cunard, in celebrating its 175th anniversary, will bring three major, spectacular liners to Liverpool. Their return is a symbol of the city’s renaissance, which has been brought about by the efforts of the city council. But whatever the city council does in supporting jobs and working with the private sector, it cannot provide the public services that the Government are so savagely cutting away. All I can ask for today is for the Government to be fair to local authorities in general, to be fair to the most deprived local authorities and to recognise that in Liverpool city council they have an enterprising, positive local authority, which is there to serve its people, bringing jobs and working with the private sector. Surely it deserves a better deal for public services to serve our local communities.

PMQs – Absolute Poverty in the UK

Yesterday in Parliament (28 Jan), I asked the Prime Minister a question about the increasing hardship felt by so many. People have told me about their struggles and being left in a financial limbo, in some cases for weeks, while their benefits are being processed.

The Prime Minister failed to answer my question. I asked about absolute poverty, people struggling to survive. His answer referred to “relative poverty” – a measure of inequality.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Absolute poverty up by 300,000, the rise of the working poor and very seriously sick people impoverished while they wait for their benefit—is the Prime Minister proud of this record?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s statistics are simply wrong. I know Labour does not like to hear this, but the fact is that there are 600,000 fewer people in relative poverty than there were at the election and 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty. Inequality is lower than it was at the election and we can now see 1.75 million more of our fellow countrymen and women in work. Behind all those statistics are people who are able to go out, earn a wage, have a pay packet and support their families. I would have thought the Labour party of all parties would want to support that.

Bedroom Tax vote

Yesterday in Parliament I voted to scrap the heinous and unfair bedroom tax. Labour, who have pledged to abolish the bedroom tax if we win the next election, called today’s vote on this important issue.

The motion read: “That this House believes that the housing benefit social sector size criteria, otherwise known as the bedroom tax, should be abolished with immediate effect.”

It was defeated by 298 votes to 266 thanks to Conservative and Lib Dem MPs, who voted against the motion.

The Tory and Lib Dem Government introduced this unjust policy and it has affected around half a million households across the country. Two thirds of these households include a disabled person.

Like most of this Government’s policies it has hit Liverpool especially hard. My constituency of Liverpool Riverside is the sixth worst affected in the country and 2,430 people have lost out as a result.

This cannot be allowed to continue and a future Labour Government will repeal this abhorrent tax. In the mean time I will do all I can to put pressure on the Tory/Lib Dem Government to reverse it.

Liverpool is tackling Ebola through important research

Yesterday in Parliament I praised the fantastic work that the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health and the School of Tropical medicine are doing to tackle the deadly Ebola virus.

Researchers at the two Liverpool institutions are currently helping to fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa and are working together to understand the spread of the virus and the risks it poses to the UK.

I asked the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt:

Liverpool University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, have done a great deal of work to address the problem of the transmission of Ebola. Does the Secretary of State’s work involve their recommendations, and do his proposals for combating Ebola, particularly as regards international travel, address the issues that those institutions raise?

The Health Secretary agreed with me saying that “we have fantastic research on the spread of infectious diseases at a number of institutions in this country, including in Liverpool, and we are not only using that research in the battle that we are leading in Sierra Leone, but making it available to partner countries leading the battle in other parts of west Africa”.

The full text of the question can be found here: http://bit.ly/1vZPw2S

My calls for Aigburth Cricket Club to be saved

I am calling on the owners of the land in Southwood Road (where Aigburth Cricket Club is based) to withdraw their plans to evict the club on November 15th.

The Cricket and Bowls club, who have been in existence for nearly 130 years, face eviction – having been asked to leave the ground by the owners.

I have been supporting the club and have taken up their case with Sport England and Liverpool City Council.

Sport England say that they would oppose alternative development unless the site was surplus to requirements. Liverpool City Council have confirmed to me that Liverpool currently has an under provision of cricket pitches.

In addition, should the owner wish to sell the land they would be responsible for replacing provision in the area and would have to provide “an equivalent or better quantity and quality of playing field including ancillary facilities within the locality.”

I call for the eviction notice issued on Aigburth Cricket Club to be withdrawn with its requirements for the Club to vacate the Southwood Road site by November 15th.

Sport England and the Council have indicated the difficulties the owner would face if he sought to close the club and develop the land for other purposes.

This situation is causing great anxiety to the many people who use this club.

It is time the uncertainty was removed.

Government must think again on cuts for disabled students

I am very concerned that the Government has not yet completed an equality analysis on its plans to cut Disabled Student Allowances (DSA). This was revealed in the Minister’s answer to my written parliamentary question (June 11th):

Mrs Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what impact assessments he carried out on proposals to change disabled students’ allowances.

Mr Willetts: The proposed changes to disabled students’ allowances will be subject to an equality analysis, which will consider their impact in relation to protected characteristics. Extensive discussions are under way with a wide range of stakeholders to help inform this.

I will consider a final version of the equality analysis before any final decisions are made and regulations are laid before the House.

Higher education students can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) if they have a:

  • disability
  • long-term health condition
  • mental health condition
  • specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia

I have also signed David Blunkett’s Early Day Motion (EDM 48) on this issue. http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2014-15/48

I have made representations to the Minister. This deserves a major rethink. The government must think again.

No decision must be taken before the equality impact is published and debated!

The Bedroom Tax – One Year On

On the one year anniversary of the Bedroom Tax, Labour has pledged to scrap the Bedroom Tax when it forms the next government, which has hit over 78,000 people in the North West, 26,000 in Merseyside alone.

Since David Cameron’s government introduced the Bedroom Tax low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £720 a year. According to the National Housing Federation two thirds of households hit by the Bedroom Tax cannot find the money to pay their rents and one in seven are at risk of eviction.

Some of the poorest households have been hit by this cruel and costly tax on bedrooms. It’s time for the government to ditch the Bedroom Tax.

The next Labour Government will repeal the Bedroom Tax.Image