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28 April 2023

Long austerity: councillors reveal how much they still cut services

Exclusive polling for the New Statesman reveals which local budgets are being slashed.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Austerity ended as long ago as 2018. (You can tell because the roads are so smooth and no one ever has to wait for a place in a care home.)

Ever since Theresa May and her chancellor, Philip Hammond, declared that the cuts were over ahead of the autumn Budget that year, we’ve heard variations on this sentiment from subsequent leaders. During the first pandemic summer in 2020, Boris Johnson promised: “We are absolutely not going back to the austerity of ten years ago.”

Yet a bit like Brexit, austerity will never fully be “done”. Britain is feeling the butterfly effect of public spending cuts – which began in 2010 – most comprehensively today, particularly when it comes to the NHS crisis, our polluted rivers and public sector strikes. Local government, which was hit hardest by cuts, is still struggling to provide everything it used to. Most councillors in England have had to cut culture, leisure, transport and road maintenance budgets since 2019, exclusive polling by the New Statesman’s policy supplement, Spotlight, reveals.

Nearly half of councillors admit to reducing spending on libraries and social care, and a significant proportion of councillors (well over a third) also report cutting housing budgets and waste collection.

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No matter the rhetoric, the chronic effects of austerity are still dictating our day-to-day lives and how our local areas are run. Ahead of the English local elections on 4 May, they may also influence voters’ decisions at the ballot box.

The full results of our councillor poll will be published in a special supplement of the New Statesman magazine on 5 May.

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