The budget verdict: Hammond criticised for inaction over pollution, housing and social care

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. Pic: chathamhouse

Councillors from the Eastlondonlines boroughs have come out in force to criticise budget proposals presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond on Wednesday.

Despite Hammond making significant amendments to housing, Universal Credit and the NHS, local politicians still feel that the Government is not doing enough to help individual boroughs, with some highlighting clear omissions from the budget itself.

During his speech to the House of Commons, Hammond bowed to recent pressure and put forward a £1.5 billion package to “address concerns” about the delivery of Universal Credit, while revealing that the seven-day initial waiting period for the processing of claims will also be scrapped.

Croydon Council recently passed a motion calling on the government to immediately halt and review the pilot scheme for Universal Credit that is currently in place, describing its implementation as “cruel”. Croydon has the highest number of Universal Credit claimants in the country.

Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs, also recently said: “Universal Credit will only push more children into poverty.”

Defending his party’s alterations to Universal Credit, Canary Wharf Conservative Councillor Andrew Wood told ELL: “In general Universal Credit is a great idea, although there are some practical problems. Therefore these latest changes are welcome, especially in regard to how quickly people receive their money.”

The Chancellor also revealed that new diesel cars that do not meet the latest emission standards will face tax raises from April 2018. Money raised via tax will contribute towards a £220 million clean air fund.

Eastlondonline boroughs have some of the highest air pollution levels in the country, with disastrous consequences.

A recent study by Goldsmiths College, University of London, revealed that air pollution around Lewisham was up to six times higher than the World Health Organisation guidelines.

According to cabinet reports, 7.4 per cent of people over 30 die prematurely due to air pollution in Tower Hamlets, whilst Croydon sees 20 times more air pollution related deaths than those killed by traffic collisions.

Responding to the changes, air quality champion for Lewisham, Councillor Sophie McGeevor told Eastlondonlines: “Air pollution is the biggest environment risk to public health and yesterday’s budget shows us that the Conservatives are unwilling to provide the necessary resources to save lives and improve quality of life in Lewisham.

“In London alone 9,400 deaths can be attributed to Air Quality related illnesses. This is also an issue of social justice; Air Quality is worse in areas with higher levels of social deprivation, such as Lewisham.

McGeevor added: “There are literally hundreds of things that he could of done yesterday that would have improved air quality without harming business, but he either doesn’t care or he lacks the vision to do anything about it.”

As for building houses, Hammond admitted that it is “a complicated challenge and that there is no single magic bullet”, but pledged to build 300,000 new homes every year.

However, this did not include any commitment to promote social or affordable housing.

Hackney Council revealed in November that only three per cent of privately rented properties are affordable for those who are reliant on housing benefits.

Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said on the issue: “This was a budget that again focused on propping up a failing housing market, with a focus on home ownership that does little for the 13,000 families waiting for a Council home in Hackney or the 120,000 children who will be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation across the country.”

The NHS was also the recipient of funding alterations, with £350m set to be injected as a means of helping the organisation through the winter.

In total, a £2.8bn emergency cash injection will be handed to the NHS, which is significantly less than the £4bn that was recently requested by NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens.

Specific NHS services have recently been under threat within the various ELL boroughs, one being the New Cross NHS walk-in Centre in Lewisham.

Other points of interest included the introduction of a new railcard, which will now allow people up to 30-years-old to receive discounted train travel, while a £3bn fee has also been put aside for over the next two years to deal with all issues related to Brexit. All four Eastlondonline boroughs voted to remain during the EU referendum last June.

During a draft local plan published by Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs this November, he failed to address in detail the upcoming impact of Brexit within the borough. This was despite the fact Canary Wharf could be affected more than most by the upcoming EU divorce.

Omitted from the budget was a lack of planned funding for either the police or services linked to social care. Labour MP for Croydon North Steve Reed criticised this on Twitter:

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also condemned the budget’s failure to boost police funding in the capital: “The Government refused to back the Metropolitan Police today – and the Chancellor didn’t even mention counter-terrorism.”


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