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Spring Statement 2022: BASW urges UK Government to tackle cost of living crisis

BASW UK is looking for the Chancellor to make announcements that will make a tangible and real difference to people who are in poverty or close to the poverty line

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, is giving his Spring Statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday 23 March.

We will hear what the UK Government’s spending plans and priorities are. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the Government’s finances, as well as the household incomes across the country.

The cost-of-living crisis has been building for more than a decade, and social workers will know the impact that cuts to local authorities have had on services. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated this crisis, and Government cannot ignore the high cost of living any longer.

BASW UK is looking for the Chancellor to make announcements that will make a tangible and real difference to people who are in poverty or close to the poverty line.

Note: Almost all taxes are set by Westminster, with funding expenditure allocated to the devolved nations through an annual grant calculated through the Barnett formula. Changes in spending levels allocated to public services in England will be reflected in the block grants received by the devolved nations. This means that when the Chancellor announces spending on a particular area or service that applies only to England, the devolved nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will receive a proportionate amount determined by the Barnett formula. Westminster is responsible for social work services in England. 

Spring statement: BASW priorities 

1: Cost of living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis has become headline news as prices on fuel escalate, making it even more expensive to fill up your car or heat your home. Social workers will have seen first-hand how the cost-of-living crisis has impacted people who use social work services over the past few years. People on low incomes or in receipt of benefits will have been finding it harder to make ends meet. 

The war in Ukraine means that the costs of fuel and other exports such as wheat are set to increase. This is having a knock-on effect and adding to the cost of the fuel at pumps and heating costs. It will also mean the food you buy could get more expensive due to the costs of production and distribution. 

This is all on top of austerity measures that were introduced in the UK in 2010 when the Government implemented widespread cuts across the public sector. Freezes to public sector pay and social security meant that people were being forced to live on lower incomes while the cost of living continued to rise. 

Social workers and social work students will be hit by these increases in the cost of living, such as by spending more on fuel to travel for work. Those on lower incomes will also be hit and those people who are struggling to get by now may find it impossible to fill up their car or heat their homes. 

The Chancellor will attempt to lay the blame of the increasing cost of living on the war in Ukraine. But social workers will know that people were struggling to get by long before this war happened. The Chancellor cannot blame low wages, out of control housing costs, and an insufficient social security system on the war in Ukraine. 

In this statement, we want to hear solutions. We want to know what action the Government is taking to address the escalating cost of living, and not brush it aside as a side effect of the war in Ukraine. 

There are rumours that the Chancellor will make an announcement in relation to job creation, which is welcome, but without taking measures support those out of work and who cannot work, this does not fully address the cost of living crisis. There are also reports that the Chancellor will increase benefits by 3.1% - which equates to about £10 a month on average for those on Universal Credit – but this does not even slightly begin to rectify the £20 per week cut that Universal Credit had last Autumn. 

2: Local government funding 

Local authorities have been chronically underfunded for more than a decade, and this has taken its toll. Early intervention and preventative services and schemes have been abolished as local authorities have had to focus their limited resource on statutory responsibilities.

We have seen piecemeal attempts to improve social care, but each time the Government has failed the test because reform has not addressed the problems in the sector, nor has it been supported with the funding that it desperately needs. The Health and Social Care Levy is being pushed into health care, while social care and social work continues to be a second thought. There must be parity of health and social care, and we can only achieve this with properly funded local authorities.

On top of twelve years of cuts to local authority budgets, local authorities will now have increased expenditures due to rising energy bills to heat their buildings and fuel any Council vehicles. 

3: Pandemic recovery

The pandemic continues to have a large impact on people’s lives. Many people lost loved ones to COVID-19. The combination of losing loved ones along with long periods of social isolation will have affected people’s mental health. The Chancellor must announce measures to ensure that long waiting lists for appropriate mental health support are abolished. This must also include early intervention so that mental illness does not escalate into more serious conditions that require urgent crisis intervention.

There will also be additional pressures on social care as a result of the pandemic. There are widespread reports on people suffering with ‘long COVID’, and it will be some years before we know how many people will need social care support due to respiratory illness due to catching COVID-19.

There are still extensive backlogs on health care waiting lists, which will have a knock-on effect on social care. Health and social care are firmly interlinked, and failure to tackle problems in one part will be felt by the other.

The sector has been calling on the Government for many years to take our warnings seriously, and to invest in prevention and early intervention. 

The Chancellor’s statement will be broadcast live on BBC and other news channels on Wednesday 23rd March from 12:30pm.