The last spending round announced a 10% cut to local council’s budgets in 2015-16, further squeezing local authority spending in a move that was deemed “over the top” by the LGA.
Local government expert Tony Travers pointed out that these cuts now represent the biggest decrease of local council budgets since the second world war.
As the government is forced to make tough choices to reduce overall expenditure in an increasingly challenging economic environment, many are starting to witness the effects of these cuts. The BBC Radio 4 show You & Yours spoke to listeners about the impact of spending cuts in their area and found services that help sick, vulnerable people are starting to disappear.
One listener, Sue, called in to explain how she was made redundant after 20 years of working with the council after funding was pulled from her local community centres. Beatrice, from Basildon, attended a community centre for the over-50s run by her local council. It was announced that hot meals at the centre were to be cut in a bid to save £30,000 a year.
These kinds of cuts to local community centres tend to impact the most vulnerable people of society. Many, especially older residents, rely on these kinds of services to get by. As Beatrice pointed out, some of the residents had been affected by illnesses such as strokes, and depended on the centre to provide their food.
In some respects, those who have seen their local community service centres forced to offer a reduced service are the lucky ones. Some centres, unable to stay open in the face of a considerably reduced budget, must close permanently, leaving residents without a vital source of support and friendship. Research has shown that loneliness has a similar affect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and for many older citizens community centres are their only opportunity for socialisation.
So what can be done to help? In some cases, it falls to volunteers to keep these vital support services open. Sue, for example, went back to her job as a full-time volunteer in order to prevent the centre from being shut down. Holding the exact same position she once had but without a salary or any funding, Sue has devoted all of her time to keeping the community centre running.
More affluent members of society might be able to help by making monetary donations. In the case of Beatrice, the members have suggested paying £1 a week extra in order to keep their hot meals. Some have had to leave the centre, as relying on a pension means they simply cannot afford that extra pound - something more wealthy local residents might be able to step in and provide.
While it is not realistic for many to devote hours to volunteering or spend large amounts of money on keeping local council services afloat, just an hour a week or a few pounds a month could really make a difference to the vulnerable members of society for whom these services represent a vital lifeline. New Foresters research suggests 43% of UK adults have volunteered to support a charity in the past, and we hope the plight of local council services will encourage even more to get involved.
The old adage ‘you only miss something once it’s gone’ is becoming increasingly poignant in these post-recession years; let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that by doing our bit to keep our local services running.
Steve Dilworth is managing director of Foresters UK member network