Letter to the Chancellor
16th November 2023
The cost of living emergency and fair funding for our essential local services
We write to you as representatives of public, private, faith and voluntary sector organisations from across St Helens Borough, to ask you to take urgent action to preserve and safeguard our vital public services, on which local people rely, and deliver a fair deal for St Helens Borough.
For over a decade we have seen decreasing government funding for public services, whilst at the same time demand for vital public services is hugely increasing. Over the last year this has escalated much further with more and more households now feeling the devastating impact from this crisis, with spiralling numbers of residents now requiring help.
Daily we are hearing extremely worrying evidence from partners working directly with residents including:
- Headteachers reporting that they are hearing from parents who are regularly missing meals so they can feed their children and pay the bills.
- Local pensioners having to make decisions on whether to heat their homes and go hungry or feed themselves and go cold.
- The borough's food banks reporting they are now regularly running out of supplies as they are inundated with more and more residents requiring basic food packages.
- GPs reporting that the working poor are not taking medicines as they can't afford prescription charges.
- St Helens is amongst the most deprived boroughs in England, with significantly raised rates of heart and respiratory disease, cancer and mental health problems. Health services in the borough are concerned that residents who already struggle to afford to heat their homes or lead healthier lives are particularly affected by rising costs of living. On average, local people can die up to 10 years earlier than residents of the most affluent areas. The cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating this disparity.
- Locally in the NHS, we have seen a sharp rise in "excess deaths" during the last winter 2022/23. Most attendances and admissions over the Christmas and New Year period was for patients suffering with respiratory conditions which hampered hospital flow, led to more corridor care and held ambulances on site for longer.
- The Council Contact Centre has seen telephone contact triple as more and more residents seek help and advice.
- Halton & St Helens Voluntary & Community Action are reporting residents are now presenting with complex multiple issues, rather than just one thing such as food or fuel poverty. Many people are now presenting with issues of debt, housing need, increasing poor mental health etc.
- Torus, the biggest provider of social housing in St Helens, reporting an unprecedented increase in the number of people in rent arrears.
- Frontline staff reporting concerns that more people are experiencing suicidal thoughts due to financial pressures.
- The police reporting, they are responding to higher levels of crime and disorder.
- Over 15,000 people sought assistance on housing and homelessness from the Council's Housing Assistance Centre in 2022/23, over 40% more than the previous year. In the current year 7,000 have sought help demonstrating the deepening impact of the housing crisis.
- 129 unique individuals had been found rough sleeping in St Helens borough by the end of October 2023 with 63% (82 individuals) new to rough sleeping, including several who had received discontinuation notices following asylum decisions. This is a significant increase on previous years where the bi-monthly spotlight count figure in 2022/23 averaged around two individuals found, demonstrating the increase in homelessness.
- More keyworkers at the council and partner organisations are themselves accessing foodbanks for the first time.
- We have seen an increase in 16% in families and people in work accessing Foodbanks.
I'm sure you will see from this, why we continue to be extremely concerned about the impact that further public service cuts are already having on residents and our ability to support them.
At the exact moment that many in our communities need public services more than ever, those services themselves are facing a cliff edge. It is a perfect storm with potentially severe consequences.
Many, if not all, providers of essential support services have been struggling for some time. For example, St Helens Borough Council faces an estimated funding gap of £13m for 2024 - 2027 but given the council has already had to commit to over £80 million of savings over the last 10 years, there is nothing left for the council to cut that won't harm its ability to support the most vulnerable and grow the local economy. The Local Government Association has commented that 'councils remain firmly in the eye of the inflationary storm and severe funding and demand pressures mean that council and public sector finances are under pressure like never before. '
Ahead of your statement on 22 November, we ask you to recognise the economic and humanitarian urgency of this situation and to give our essential services the fair funding they need to provide necessary support, and to give residents and businesses as much direct financial support as possible.
We ask you specifically to consider the following measures:
- The deliberate defunding of local authorities is having a detrimental impact on the poorest and most vulnerable. Areas like St Helens that have already suffered decades of unfair funding are its hardest whilst the demand of services increases. Implement a fair funding formula and give local authorities. Flexibility to utilise funds.
- Fair long term funding settlement based on deprivation, which reflects the health needs and enables organisations to plan and deliver services and support in confidence.
- St Helens has the lowest ratio of GPs and practice nurses to patients across Cheshire and Merseyside, and funding for primary care is significantly below the regional average. We ask you to ensure that primary care funding at least matches the average for the Northwest, in order the meet the needs of local patients.
- Review of benefit payments to make them more in line with inflation. Including more funding for the general population of those who are slightly over the benefits threshold that are being plunged into poverty with no government assistance.
- Clearer vision on how the present Government intend to generate economic recovery both in the short and long term.
- Tackle the cost of fuel and policies around refugees and asylum seekers that are leading to destitution.
- Specific targeted funding to the most vulnerable and deprived neighbours to support the development of robust neighbourhood community networks.
- Reconsider Government help for energy costs like the warm home discount to be open to all or Government vouchers to help pay debt.
- Reinvest into local community facing public services to support our most vulnerable residents.
- Recognition that being a carer is an extremely valuable role in society and reward that role accordingly. These roles need to pay more.
- Increased and sustained funding for homelessness services beyond 2024/25.
- Take responsibility for provision of on-going accommodation for individuals following asylum decisions.
- Support to Local Authorities to deliver a winter response to protect increasing numbers of individuals at risk of rough sleeping this winter.
- Look at the current housing situation. There are not enough emergency accommodation places, and the current housing stock is not fit for purpose.
- Grants to be able to purchase food. As foodbank donations have decreased, charities are having to buy more and more food than before to help the foodbank deliver its service.
- Inflation is a major factor which has not been properly accounted for in Government funding and is still at a much higher level than anticipated adding significant costs to all essential services.
St Helens is a proud Borough, our people and our partners have the potential to do great things - but we need government to back us in the short term now to get through this cost-of-living crisis, and in the long term to help us fulfil our potential.
Without immediate action the council and local partners will need to make increasingly difficult decisions about services we will have to reduce or stop all together. You have an opportunity in the Autumn Statement to deliver a fair deal for St Helens Borough- to protect vital public services and to avoid further increasing the tax burden on families still dealing with the cost-of-living crisis.
We look forward to hearing from you and to your statement on 22 November.
Councillor David Baines, Leader of St Helens Borough Council
Andrew Kilmurray, Newsquest Media Group, St Helens Star
Angela Metcalfe, The Hope Centre St Helens Foodbank
Ann Marr, OBE, Chief Executive, St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Ann Marie Lawrenson, Halton and St Helens Voluntary Community Action
Cath Fogarty, Executive Director Corporate Services, St Helens Borough Council
Catherine Murray-Howard, Chief Operating Officer, Torus
Councillor Andy Bowden, Cabinet Member Environmental Services & Climate Change
Councillor Anne McCormack, Labour Party
Councillor Anthony Burns, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Communities and Culture
Councillor Bisi Osundeko, Labour Party
Councillor Brian Spencer, Liberal Democratic Party
Councillor Colin Betts, Independent (ungrouped)
Councillor Damien O'Connor, Labour Party
Councillor David Banks, Labour Party
Councillor David Hawley, Green Party
Councillor David van der Burg, Green Party
Councillor Derek Long, Labour Party
Councillor Donna Greaves, The Independents
Councillor Geoff Pearl, Liberal Democratic Party
Councillor Glen Richards, Green Party
Councillor James Tasker, The Independents
Councillor Janet Johnson, Labour Party
Councillor Janet Sheldon, Green Party
Councillor Jeanette Banks, Labour Party
Councillor Jeanie Bell, Labour Party
Councillor John Case, Conservative Party
Councillor John Hodkinson, Member Champion for Local Business
Councillor Karl Collier, Newton le Willows Independents
Councillor Kate Groucutt, Cabinet Member for Economy, Business and Skills, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Kate Stevenson, The Independents
Councillor Keith Laird, Labour Party Councillor Linda Maloney MBE, Labour Party
Councillor Linda Mussell, Conservative Party
Councillor Lynn Clarke, Labour Party
Councillor Mancyia Uddin, Labour Party
Councillor Marlene Quinn, Cabinet Member for Integrated Health & Care, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Martin Bond, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Michael Haw, Liberal Democratic Party
Councillor Michelle Sweeney, Member Champion for Mental Health, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Niall Campbell, Labour Party
Councillor Nova Charlton, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Paul Hooton, Green Party
Councillor Paul McQuade, Labour Party
Councillor Peter Peers, Independent (ungrouped)
Councillor Richard McCauley, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning, St Helens Borough Council
Councillor Robyn Hattersley, Labour Party
Councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron MBE, Deputy Leader, S Helens Borough Council
Councillor Terence Maguire, Newton le Willows Independents
Councillor Trisha Long, Labour Party
Daniel McGarvey, The Hope Centre
David Lawson, Clinical Director St Helens North PCN, Garswood Surgery St Helens CCG
Dr Hilary Flett, Cheshire and Merseyside ICB
Dr Martin Breach, Clinical Director, Primary Care Network
Emma Cook, CEO, Citizens Advice St Helens
Geoffrey Appleton, St Helens Place Partnership Board and Deputy Chair of St Helens People's Board
Gerard Sheridan, Merseyside Fire and Rescue
Hilary Brooks, Director of Children's Services, St Helens Borough Council
Hollie Corless, St Helens North Primary Care Network
Jayne Parkinson-Loftus, Healthwatch St Helens
Jessica O'Mara, St Helens North Primary Care Network
Jo Morris, Hope Pantry, St Helens
John Tabern, Standing Tall Foundation
Julia Ashton, Primary School Lead
Justin Hill, YMCA St Helens
Kath O'Dwyer, Chief Executive, St Helens Borough Council
Laura Hutcheon, Mission in the Economy
Lee Norman, Head of Housing, St Helens Borough Council
Lisa Harris, Executive Director Place Services, St Helens Borough Council
Mark Palethorpe, Executive Director of People (Children, Adults and Public Health) & NHS Place Director St Helens
Mike Rush, Chief Executive, Saints RFC
Nick Dyer, Teardrops Supporting Your Community
Paul Morgan, Chief Executive, Pilkington Welfare Organisation
Paul Rose, Clinical Director, Primary Care Network
Rachel Cleal, Director of Adult Social Services, St Helens Borough Council
Rachel Fance, Service Manager, St Helens Integrated Recovery Service (Change Grow Live)
Rev Rachel Shuttleworth, St Helens Parish Church
Rob Cooper, Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals
Ruth du Plessis, Director of Public Health, St Helens Borough Council
Sally Britch, St Helens Food Bank
Sally Yeoman, Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action
Sarah Holden, City Health Care Partnerships CIC
Tracy Mawson, Chief Executive, St Helens Chamber
Unison St Helens Branch
Wayne Longshaw, Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust