We need to stick together | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar column

Kwasi Kwarteng might have gone but as the country goes into recession, the devastating impact of his mini budget will be felt for years to come.

The latest Chancellor has since backtracked on almost all the policies of his predecessor through his Autumn Statement, but the damage has been done.

Those on lowest incomes will no doubt struggle the most this winter and it appears as though middle earners will be left picking up the tab for government failures.

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Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar

The government has not yet announced any additional support for local councils.

Yet, from next year, local authorities have been given the option of raising council tax by up to 5% without the requirement to hold a referendum. It is now a familiar story with this government, they will make cuts to council budgets, leaving local government with no option but to raise council tax so they can continue to provide key services. This needs to stop and it is about time local government was properly funded.

This will no doubt mean that Lancashire County Council which is the upper tier authority responsible for social care, will be forced to increase council tax by the maximum amount. This will put further strain on families and households already struggling to make ends meet. Burnley Council only receives around 15 pence of every pound collected. However, as the billing authority, ends up taking the blame for the rise in the levy.

The rhetoric coming from government will blame the ongoing war in Ukraine and COVID-19, but let's not be fooled by this. Blame lies solely with the disastrous policies of this government and 12 years of austerity.

No matter what happens it is important we all stick together during this challenging period. Unfortunately, during difficult times, it is easy to look for a scapegoat and some commentators will look to cause division. The release of the 2021 census results over the past few days has meant this has already begun. There is a small minority who will try to put the spotlight on some communities and try to cause local tensions. Instead, we should be using the data to embrace change and take pride in who we are today as a nation.

Our identity is not defined by a shift in demographics but based on tolerance and respect. We have a proud history of welcoming different communities that have made a huge contribution to our town and made our diversity our strength.

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For me identity is about belonging. I belong in Burnley but often find myself fighting for East Lancashire. Just last week, I was in London as a proud Lancastrian celebrating Lancashire Day and I cheered as an Englishman when Marcus Rashford scored. I would, however, best describe myself as a British Muslim proud of my Pakistani heritage. Over the coming days the likes of Nigel Farage will try to sow division and tell us this is something to be afraid of, I think it is something to be celebrated.