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There will be plenty for councilors, senior civil servants and government ministers to discuss at the Local Government Association’s first in-person annual conference since 2019, which starts today in Harrogate.
COVID-19 has left a lasting impact on the health and well-being of the nation and many of our local services, while the invasion of Ukraine has seen councils grow stronger again to provide support to those fleeing war.
All of this is happening in the context of the national and local response to cost of living pressures that present an urgent challenge to our communities.
Rising costs for fuel, food and other necessities leave the most vulnerable in society at risk of tipping over the brink. Some households across the country face the very real possibility of becoming homeless, having to choose between heating or eating, and not being able to move around and receive assistance.
Councils will continue to do what they can to protect those on the lowest incomes from the higher costs of food, transport and other essentials and will target aid to those facing the most challenges. complex.
Additional government support to mitigate the impact of rising energy bills and funding for those on the lowest incomes, who are disproportionately affected by price increases, will help ease the pressure on the budgets of households this year.
But we are convinced that these measures must be accompanied by a longer-term solution to address the wider cost of living pressures, which are not going to stop anytime soon, and reduce the need for aid. additional emergency. The short-term, last-minute nature of much of the funding the government has provided to support those in financial difficulty has made it harder for councils to target support as efficiently and effectively as they would like.
It would be wrong to see it as another one-off crisis. The war in Ukraine and the growing climate crisis have made future economic shocks, as well as food and fuel shortages, increasingly likely.
Many households have uncertain and unpredictable income and expenses and little or no financial reserves to manage changing circumstances. This makes them very vulnerable to these economic and financial shocks.
It is vital that we support people now, but it is also clear that many households are likely to be economically vulnerable for some time to come. Going forward, the councils want to work with government on an effective long-term solution to preventing poverty and disadvantage that moves away from providing crisis support and large-scale emergency response. scale, to improve life chances and build resilience.
Rising energy prices and skyrocketing inflation have also left the councils facing a perfect storm from the demand for services which continues to rise, just as the price of providing them also rises. in a spectacular way.
Our new analysis published today shows that inflation, energy costs and planned increases to the National Living Wage will add an additional £2.4billion of pressure to council budgets this year alone.
It is forcing councils to tear up financial plans made just three months ago with the potential to cut funding for local services – such as bin collection, pothole filling, elderly care and disabilities, early intervention, support for low-income households and homelessness prevention.
The impact on our local services could be disastrous.
It is essential that the government ensure councils have the resources they need to meet these unforeseen costs and protect the services that are helping communities recover from the pandemic and residents cope with the coronavirus crisis. Cost of life.
- Cllr James Jamieson is chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents over 350 councils across England and Wales.
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