Building an inclusive society in the post-pandemic world - steps that national and local government will need to take to achieve an inclusive society in the UK

Local government’s delivery of public services during the response to COVID-19 demonstrates the value of place-based leadership.


Key messages

  • Local government’s delivery of public services during the response to COVID-19 demonstrates the value of place-based leadership. The economic, social and environmental recovery in our communities will look different in different areas of the country. We must also recognise that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicity (BAME) communities and on disabled people. A locally coordinated response with councils playing a lead role in recovery plans will be the most effective way of rebuilding from COVID-19.
  • It is also vital that the economic recovery is inclusive, as emerging economic indicators point to varied sectoral, geographic and demographic impacts.  A reformed approach to devolution should form a central part of the national recovery strategy and should be developed in partnership between Government and local authorities.
  • The Government needs to reconsider the growth funding and policy landscape and move away from fragmented and short term interventions that may not be sustainable, and are driven by Whitehall silos towards a localist settlement that gives councils the ability to drive green and inclusive growth that meets the needs of their communities.
  • COVID-19 has exposed deep inequalities in our health and care systems. Long-term reform of adult social care is urgently needed. We are calling on the Government to publish its proposals for reform as soon as possible and before the summer parliamentary recess. Greater frontline funding for local public health teams is also essential if we are to build back fairer from the devastating coronavirus pandemic and better protect ourselves from future outbreaks.
  • With council housing waiting lists set to potentially nearly double as a result of COVID-19, a key part of the recovery from COVID-19 will be the delivery of quality, affordable homes and the supporting infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places. The LGA is calling on the Government to provide councils with the powers and tools to deliver 100,000 much-needed social homes per year.
  • Councils have been instrumental in supporting all schools throughout the pandemic and will play a critical role in supporting children and young people as they catch up on lost learning. It is also crucial that mental health support is on an equitable footing as education when we look at recovery.
  • Additional support should be made available to vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The £1.7 billion lost from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 should be restored and the Government should reinstate the £700 million removed from the public health grant since 2015.

Adult social care

The experience of the coronavirus pandemic has shown the consequences of underfunding and the often-hidden nature of social care. The tragic situation in care homes, along with the disproportionate number of deaths of people with learning disabilities and those of BAME backgrounds in the care workforce, are just some of the ways that a historic lack of national attention has played out in our communities.

Long-term reform of adult social care is urgently needed. We need a ‘1948 moment’ for social care; a moment where we collectively aspire to something bigger and better for social care, because we aspire to something bigger and better for us all. We are calling on the Government to publish its proposals for reform as soon as possible and before the summer parliamentary recess.

Urgent priorities include funding to meet the continuing costs of COVID-19 on social care, particularly on the care workforce and unpaid carers, as well as investment to tackle the funding gap between the cost of providing care and what councils pay. This should help pave the way to a more properly funded, person-centred form of care that puts people in control of their lives and recognises their agency. Working closely with communities and the NHS to invest in prevention, reduce health inequalities and build on new health and care partnerships announced in the recent White Paper, this should ensure health and care services best support people to live the lives they want to lead in their own homes and communities.

This year’s Spending Review and the Government’s expected publication of its proposals for the future of care should also address some fundamental questions, including about what we want social care to be and what kind of care we want for ourselves and each other. Social care also should be recognised as part of the solution to building flourishing and connected communities, in the wake of the pandemic.

Health inequalities

Health inequalities such as deprivation, low income and poor housing have always meant poorer health, reduced quality of life and early death for many people. The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed how these existing inequalities - and the interconnections between them such as race, gender or geography, are associated with an increased risk of becoming ill with a disease such as COVID-19.

Risks of contracting COVID-19 and its subsequent impact are both interconnected and cumulative. Those who are male, older, and from a black or ethnic minority group, with an underlying health condition, working in a higher risk occupation and living in a deprived area in overcrowded housing are at a greater risk of COVID-19 infection, of experiencing more severe symptoms and much higher rates of mortality.

Local government is focussing on reducing these inequalities, working with the wider health system to enable recovery from the pandemic and to build sustainable and healthier futures. Public health teams should be at the centre of efforts to reduce inequalities, boost the economy and improve people’s lives in our recovery from COVID-19, including making greater use of combined resources at local, system and national level. Encouraging behaviour change, such as through health campaigns, tackling vaccine hesitancy and promoting positive mental health, will also see people across the country have longer, healthier and happier lives.

Greater frontline funding for local public health teams is essential if we are to build back fairer from the devastating coronavirus pandemic and better protect ourselves from future outbreaks. Councils have seen a £700 million real terms reduction in public health funding between 2014/15 and 2020/21 – a fall of almost a quarter (23.5 per cent) per person. If the Government’s prevention agenda is to succeed, this must be re-evaluated in future spending rounds.

To match the growth in overall NHS funding as part of the Long-Term Plan, the Government should commit to increasing the public health grant in future years to at least £3.9 billion by 2024/25. This would allow councils to not only continue to provide current services, but also consider expanding other initiatives where financially possible and locally desirable.

Climate change

It is vital that the recovery is climate smart, and councils are well placed to deliver on environmental goals, with 230 councils having declared a climate emergency and nearly two-thirds of councils in England aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030. The LGA is committed to supporting local government to continue on this journey.

LGA commissioned analysis by Ecuity estimates that there could be 700,000 direct total jobs in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030, up from 185,000 in 2018. Moreover, between 2030 and 2050, the low-carbon workforce could increase by a further 489,000, taking the total number of jobs to more than 1.18 million by 2050. These jobs would aid the economic recovery from COVID-19, whilst helping the Government achieve its Net Zero target.

Work local

The true scale of unemployment will not be known until furlough ends, but we know already that COVID-19 has displaced many people from the labour market who will need to find work and reskill as a result. While the crisis will impact the jobs and skills landscape across all parts of the country, some people and places will bounce back sooner than others, as every area has different demographics, economic strengths and weaknesses. Past recessions have exposed some groups of people – those with lower qualifications, young people, over 50s, disabled people and some BAME backgrounds – to be out of work for longer. And, of course, some parts of the country harder hit and/or more reliant on shut down sectors will find recovery more difficult with limited job creation.

That is why we need all hands to the pump to align job creation and employability measures, so no community is left behind. Local government is critical to making this happen. There is much to be gained by national and local government combining resources and expertise to deliver the recovery our people and places deserve. With adequate resourcing and powers, and an opportunity to work in partnership with national government and others at the earliest stage to shape new or re-design existing Plan for Jobs initiatives including Kickstart, Restart and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, we will help land well-intended but often disconnected national schemes so they become greater than the sum of their parts.

Coming out of this, and thinking ahead to the Devolution and Further Education White Papers, this is a unique opportunity to Re-think local. The Government should back and fund the trialling of the LGA’s Work Local’ model, an integrated and devolved employment and skills system. This should be used as blueprint for a skills and employment devolution that works for all people and places. It could for a medium sized combined authority lead to an additional 8,500 people leaving benefits, and 5,700 people increasing their qualifications. This would be associated with additional fiscal benefits for a local area of £280 million per year, with a benefit to the economy of £420 million.

Local growth

Councils know their local areas best and have delivered for their communities. They must be trusted to lead efforts to rebuild and level up our economy, get people back into work and create new hope for their residents. It is good that, in this year’s Budget, the Government has placed councils at the heart of the delivery of new funds such as the Levelling Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is a significant opportunity to promote local growth, reduce regional disparities and drive economic recovery. This can be best achieved by making UKSPF a localised, place-based fund that is accountable to local people and places. Councils and combined authorities should drive the design, prioritisation, commissioning and oversight of the UKSPF, which should be allocated in line with local need and deliver locally determined outcomes. The Government should build on their current approach and move away from a pattern of piecemeal, fragmented and short-term interventions. We must move towards a localist settlement that gives councils the powers and resources to drive green and inclusive growth that meets the needs of their communities.

Housing

A key part of the recovery from COVID-19 will be the delivery of quality, affordable homes and the supporting infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places. The Government has rightly set an ambitious national house-building target of 300,000 homes a year, and these are desperately needed. With council housing waiting lists set to potentially nearly double as a result of COVID-19, a genuine renaissance in council housebuilding is required to boost housing supply, help families struggling to meet housing costs, and tackle housing waiting lists. 

The LGA is calling on the Government to provide councils with the powers and tools to deliver 100,000 much-needed social homes per year. Our report ‘Delivery of council housing: a stimulus package post-pandemic’, sets out the steps, measures and reforms that would support councils to work towards delivering a new generation of social homes. Building 100,000 new social homes per year could result in a £14.5 billion boost to the economy, kick starting our construction sector with 89,000 jobs worth £3.9 billion and adding £4.8 billion, with a further £5.7 to the supply chain.

The LGA has long-called for reform to Right to Buy and we are pleased that the Government has announced it will extend the timeframe local authorities have to spend new and existing Right to Buy receipts from 3 years to 5 years. It is also good to see that the Government will increase the percentage cost of a new home that local authorities can fund using Right to Buy receipts from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

Councils are committed to ensuring new homes are built and communities have quality, sustainable places to live. It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart which gives communities the power to ensure new developments are of a high standard, built in the right places, and include affordable homes.

Children and young people

Councils have been instrumental in supporting all schools throughout the pandemic, including working to support vulnerable pupils and interpreting guidance to help ensure learning has continued as safely and effectively as possible for all children and young people.

As education recovery plans are developed by the Department for Education (DfE), it is vital that they recognise the role that councils can play as local convenors and education system leaders in ensuring that a series of national education recovery objectives can be delivered to meet the needs of local communities.

While recovery support should be made available to all children and young people, it is vital that vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are the focus of this programme of work.

Recovery work should also recognise that the pandemic has affected different children in different ways and seek to ensure that recovery plans mitigate against longer-term negative outcomes. For example, councils reported that schooling for children from BAME communities was impacted by the higher rates of coronavirus in these communities. Many parents of disabled children reported that therapies and other support stopped during lockdowns, leading to a decline in children’s physical health and mental wellbeing.

We anticipate a need for additional support for children, young people and their families over the coming months and possibly years as a result of or exacerbated by COVID-19. To ensure families can get the support they need, we are calling for the £1.7 billion lost from the Early Intervention Grant since 2010 to be restored and the reinstatement of the £700 million removed from the public health grant since 2015.

It is crucial that mental health support is on an equitable footing as education when we look at recovery. Children will not engage in school if they have poor mental health, thus widening the learning gap further. Any proposals set out for helping pupils to catch up on lost learning need to include the emotional and social needs of young people, as well as covering academic subjects.

It is essential that the Government learns from what’s happened over the last 12 months, including looking into the shortage of academic mentors in disadvantaged areas and building on resources developed to tackle societal inequalities and better support children and young people’s recovery from the pandemic.