This post was wrote by Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, and originally featured on his council blog.
In my last post I wrote about the values I fight for in Brent and what kind of society I would like us to become.
However, we face big problems which mean making the changes we believe in isn't easy. As a borough, as a council and as a community, we face some grave long-term challenges.
I think it is important to be open and honest with residents about these challenges, as not everyone realises just how bad a situation we are in. This gives some perspective to some of the difficult decisions we have already made, and others we will have to make in the coming years.
Unemployment and the economy
The current state of the economy is causing terrible problems for many Brent residents who are struggling just to keep above the breadline. Wage levels in Brent are significantly below the London average and are declining, even while they are rising in the rest of London.
For a family with two children to have an acceptable standard of living in London they need an annual joint income of £37,000.The median household income in Brent is £27,500, and in our poorest areas it is as low as £15,000. This means many of our residents often have to choose between food and warmth.
Over the last decade, unemployment in Brent has remained above both the national and London levels, with a particularly sharp rise over the past year. Our residents are really struggling to find work. Long term unemployment can devastate communities and in some areas of the borough child poverty is as high as 50 per cent as a result.
The make-up of our community
As well as our economic problems, we also face a huge demographic crisis due to our disproportionately aging population. By 2030 the number of people over the age of 65 in the UK is set to increase by 50 per cent. On top of this the continued downward trend in the economy means more people are relying on council services.
This is such a dramatic change that it is predicted that by 2030 it will cost more than 100 per cent of our current budget just to pay for social care to support the elderly. This creates a huge dilemma. We will need to make difficult decisions and radical changes if we want to continue to provide other services that residents rely upon.
The budget crisis we face as a council is unprecedented. As a result of Government cuts, we have to reduce our spending by 28 per cent by 2015. We have to find £100 million in savings, that means less to spend on helping residents and providing services.
If you can imagine having to cut a third from your weekly household budget, this raises impossible decisions. We will have to make tough choices every day to prioritise the most essential services that protect the most vulnerable people in the borough and to maintain the everyday services that keep Brent up and running.
All this paints a gloomy picture, but there is hope.
Through relentless focus on our priorities and innovation we can continue to improve resident's lives, even in these impossible circumstances. We are on your side during these tough times.
Over the coming weeks I will be blogging about some of the things we are doing to ensure that we continue to make Brent a fairer place, create more jobs and growth and strengthen our community.