While for most of us the grumbles at Christmas time are over who has to do the washing-up or how most of the TV is repeats, it’s important to spare a thought for the least fortunate in our community. An example of an excellent and essential service is the Leonard Stocks Centre in Torquay. It provides help and shelter to vulnerable homeless people who would otherwise have nowhere else to go and would all too likely be a considerable burden for the council, the police, the health service or a combination of all three.
The financial crisis has meant everyone has had to tighten their belts while costs continue to rise. The local council is no exception and is having to significantly cut what it can fund in the immediate future. My concern is that the current Mayor has the wrong priorities. He is proposing to cut the funding to projects like the Leonard Stocks centre so that they are no longer viable. Not only will this see more homeless people on the streets but the long-term costs in terms of higher health service demands, likely increased drug use and criminal justice system contact will completely nullify the ‘savings’ made. Other councils have taken a far more socially progressive look at how to reduce their spending, often through working smarter, cutting things like back office administration and communications departments. This has enabled them to protect vital services like homeless shelters or sure-start centres. It’s a shame we’re not taking a more intelligent approach here in Torbay.
We all know the cost of living is rising substantially, while people’s incomes are generally not doing the same. There’s still not enough money to go around to fix this but the Government has recently announced a range of new measures to help, in what is known as the Autumn Statement. These include a £50 reduction in energy bills, similar to the £50 rebate for water bills I campaigned for in the South West. There’s an increase in the basic state pension of £2.95 a week, a freeze on fuel duty, a tax cut for small businesses and confirmation of free school meals for the under 7s. There’s also more progress on closing tax loopholes such as the one that allowed wealthy foreigners to make capital gains in the UK tax free. This doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods yet and there is still a long way to go to tackle the vast inequality of wealth in the UK and the various problems this causes but it is something we are working towards.