On the 30 June I wrote to Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government, to raise my very serious concerns about the terrible impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having on our local Council and on our communities in Newham. I urged him to bear in mind the poverty and inequality that affects us, and the greater number of deaths we have experienced than others. We need funding, not only to make up for what the Council is losing, but to actively address the causes of the deaths and deprivation we are experiencing. You can see my letter in full below:
Dear Secretary of State,
I write to you about the escalating threat to local authority finances as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The London Borough of Newham has reportedly had either the highest or the second highest age-adjusted mortality rate from the virus during the pandemic. I am grateful for the emergency funding packages that have been made so far, and for your clearly stated commitment to give councils ‘all the funding they need’. I hope that commitment can be relied upon over the coming months and years. Currently, the Council projects that costs will have risen by £28.5m in the current year as a direct result of COVID and their response.
As we know, the fiscal position of councils over the coming months and years will not only be affected by the much-needed extra investments that they are making in areas including care home infection control, support for residents who have previously been excluded from recourse to public funds, and emergency accommodation on a massive scale for rough sleepers and others. Our councils are also losing huge amounts of income from business rates, council tax, rents, parking charges, and more. Currently, the Borough projects that they will lose income of £23.4m, and Business rates of £7m this year, again as a result of the crisis.
This is income that local authorities have budgeted for, in the normal way. Unlike national Government, our councils have no effective mechanisms to replace these losses, which is causing huge anxiety that they might be forced into further cuts even as many services and capacities are in a parlous state as a result of the previous decade of austerity. I believe this horrifying prospect of further cuts will become inevitable unless the Government lives up to its commitment to offer all the funding our councils need to make up for the losses of the crisis.
As you will appreciate, extra costs of £28.5m and income losses of £23.4m and £7m equate to an immediate need for additional funding of around £59m. Even this projection has already proven conservative, with a newer overall projection for last week suggesting that at least £61.5m additional funding will be required.
I believe it is essential that the majority of emergency funding for local authorities in future rounds is allocated on the basis of need. It is increasingly clear that Newham’s terribly high mortality rate is linked to demographic factors, most of all deprivation, but also factors linked to our dominant private rented sector, where conditions are poor and overcrowding is common. These additional factors include our very high levels of population ‘churn’ and ‘hidden’ population. In turn, these demographic and other factors are significantly correlated with the additional costs, and losses of income, that the council is facing.
If allocation decisions are not based upon these and other need factors, the London Borough of Newham and similar local authorities will become unable to provide the accessible and effective services that residents rightly expect. It will be unable to deal with the pre-existing social injustices that made our communities especially vulnerable to the crisis, many of which are very likely to be exacerbated by it as well in the absence of concerted intervention. I believe this would amount to a failure, on the part of the Government, to meet the commitment you made to provide the funding that all councils need.
I believe that there are several areas where additional investment will be essential as we move through this crisis and towards recovery. In order to deal effectively with the drivers of our appallingly heightened mortality rate, there are a number of areas where I believe extra spending will be needed. This includes:
- Additional funding for public health activities, including both to provide greater multi-lingual and culturally aware health communications and to tackle chronic conditions that are risk factors for the virus. I believe there has been a significant increase in mental health issues and a greater need for mental health responses and befriending services for those who have lost loved ones or been especially isolated or affected by anti-social behaviour during the lockdown.
- A significant expansion enforcement activity of health and safety and other breaches within workplaces, shops, parks and open spaces, and in the private rented sector.
- The additional funding required to continue making a universal offer of accommodation to all rough sleepers in Newham, and to expand the capacity to support rough sleepers once they are accommodated so that they can transition in significant numbers towards permanent homes.
- As I have said, Newham has the second highest child poverty rate in the country. As Government support for families diminishes, this will put even greater strain on food banks and other support systems that have struggled to cope throughout the crisis. Many individuals have been excluded from the Government’s support schemes throughout, and there is little sign that they will quickly be able to access new work now that the lockdown is lifting.
- Many of our young people have not had access to the virtual education, books, and other resources that others take for granted. Local authorities have an essential role to play in supporting these young people to catch up and get the education and support they need.
- A stepping up of youth work activity as we come out of lockdown, to disrupt county lines grooming and activity and prevent exploiters from restoring their relationships with vulnerable young people.
- The additional funding required to expand domestic abuse and violence provision, given the additional needs that have been created or exposed by the lockdown.
- The additional funding required to move homeless families out of temporary accommodation that has been unsuitable for their needs during the present lockdown period, and ensure that the council’s stocks of suitable social housing are sufficient to accommodate people more securely in the event of similar crises in future.
- Adequate subsidies for leisure, exercise, and open public green spaces that are otherwise inaccessible in a Borough where many do not have private gardens or disposable income to spend on gyms or leisure.
I hope you will agree that all of these areas represent lessons that can be learnt and improvements that can be made to make our communities more resilient in the future, not only to public health crises such as pandemic, but to the economic and social damage that such crises can and are wrecking.
I know you are going to get many letters of this nature from MPs. I just want you to remember that Newham does have the second highest child poverty rate in the country, the highest homelessness and overcrowding, and the second highest age-adjusted mortality rate from COVID. We have been massively impacted by this virus which is still flourishing in the east of London. It is inconceivable that we won’t be equally affected by a second wave. I am asking for you to remember this when you are determining the allocations for each area.