25 January 2024
Green Councillor Joanna Wright's open letter to the local press:
I am writing to express mine and the local Green Group's opposition to the proposed budget cuts of £802k to children and adult services by B&NES council affecting the most vulnerable in our community.
This is not only of green concern, but also the view of the B&NES Homeless Partnership, in collaboration with various service providers, including Julian House. They too highlight the significant repercussions that these cuts will have on people from all walks of life.
The rising cost of living and the prevailing housing crisis are already putting more individuals at risk of poverty, home insecurity, and homelessness. According to Shelter, 154 people were homeless in B&NES at the end of 2023, and the latest figures from B&NES council reveal a 40% increase in households in temporary accommodation in March 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
Moreover, B&NES is grappling with an increased unemployment rate, a growing number of households on the waiting list for social housing, and an estimated 4,000 people falling into absolute poverty last year. The proposed budget cuts threaten to exacerbate these challenges and push more individuals into dire situations.
The Homeless Partnership rightly stress that the cuts will jeopardise services crucial for supporting people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. This, in turn, could lead to a surge in rough sleeping as individuals struggle to access the necessary support and accommodation required for a secure home.
Furthermore, these cuts pose a severe risk to public safety, potentially driving up the crime rate, as life-changing interventions may come too late to prevent desperate situations. Additionally, our local healthcare systems will face increased pressure, with many people experiencing homelessness reporting long-term illnesses and mental health diagnoses.
Recent developments, such as the unanimous vote by B&NES scrutiny panel on January 15th to delay proposed council budget cuts to not-for-profit sector services until the consequences are better understood, highlight the growing concerns regarding the lack of transparency in the budgeting process. In fact, B&NES Lib Dems actively chose to inform charities at short notice of these cuts, giving very little time or opportunity to properly respond.
Knowing how important homelessness is to our local MP, Wera Hobhouse, is she voicing her concern to the Lib Dem led Council through the budget consultation regarding the impact that these cuts have to residents?
Central govt has let down all councils financially. However, blaming the Conservatives for this problem distracts from the need to work collaboratively with these important charities and services who deliver to our communities. This Council should be prioritising the contractors it appoints to deliver its services. Since the third sector is often tasked with delivering essential services via council contracts, there needs to be collaborative efforts to safeguard providers through considered time led supportive leadership. These cuts need to be paused until an assessment is made on how such decision would impact public services, including the B&NES team, 3SG and other agencies, like the police and public health.
Julian House in Bath has stated, "The human cost of these cuts is undeniable, and the ripple effects will impact every person living in B&NES – eroding community cohesion and economic stability, as well as putting the social services we all share under even greater pressure than they already are."