The future of public services is at a watershed in this election. The independent Resolution Foundation has calculated that Tory plans to balance the deficit by 2018 mean £37bn more cuts still to come. The stark truth of that means a cut in local government spending of no less than 42% between 2010-18, nearly halving the services that councils are able to provide. The public service jobs lost as a result will almost certainly reach beyond a million. What Labour should therefore be arguing for is a new settlement for public services, including higher taxes on the very rich, writing off some of the debts created by the financial crisis, and more financial freedom for local authorities to set council tax and to borrow. Councils should be enabled to set higher council tax bands for higher-value properties and business rates, as well as to levy small local taxes such as a tourism tax.
One particularly urgent is to ensure that the social care sector is properly funded so that it can meet the care needs of a growing ageing population. This must mean a legal requirement that home care workers receive at the very least the national minimum wage, which over 220,000 do not currently receive because of unpaid travel time abuses.
The increasing marketisation of public services must be stopped and greater democratic accountability introduced. In probation the so-called Transforming Rehabilitation privatisation programme should be reversed. Clause 119 of the Care Act should be repealed so that local communities have greater say over their local NHS. The same accountability of schools to our communities should be brought back where it has been eroded. The entire Lobbying Act needs to be repealed so that civil society organisations and trade unions can campaign freely.
To tackle the cost of living crisis and ensure a fair and sustainable recovery, we need to restore collective pay agreements alongside pay review bodies and equal pay. The artificial public sector pay cap should be removed and the abuses of zero hours contracts stamped out. In addition the role of public sector investment needs to be developed in creating decent employment, paying fair wages, and delivering important public infrastructure such as new affordable housing which is desperately needed.