Joe Lycett: 'I don’t want to be writing jokes about my city falling apart'

Credit: ITV Tonight

Any story about "bankrupt" councils is bound to start in Birmingham, the UK's second largest city, which famously announced last year it was broke.

Complaining of a loss of £1bn funding from the government but accused of wasting millions, whatever the cause, the choices the council faced to balance their budget were stark.

Earlier this year, they announced £300m in cuts and a 20% increase in council tax. This may not sound like the stuff of comedy but ITV’s Tonight programme found loyal Brummie comedian Joe Lycett looking for laughs in the decline of his home city.

Speaking from the Glee Club where he has been hosting weekly comedy nights, he said: "I have found it very easy to make jokes about Birmingham being a dump.

"Audiences used to love that. And then for about five minutes when the Commonwealth Games started, everyone stopped laughing at that because we had hope. And then we went bankrupt. And now all that old material is coming back into my set!"

Once again he can turn his attention to the streetlights going out, the rubbish piling up and the rise of the rat as services get cut – a story repeated across the country with nearly a fifth of local authorities saying they fear going bust.

But it’s also a story of pain and loss for many vulnerable adults and children hit hardest by cuts to social care.

The Tonight programme met 71-year-old Lydia Williams, mother to two adult daughters with severe learning difficulties whose care home in Cornwall is closing because the owners can no longer afford the running costs on the money they get from the council.

With her own health failing, she worries what will become of them: “My worst fear is if anything happens to me – what will happen to them. Where will they end up? “

Three hundred miles away, Jeff Gill shares these worries about his 92-year-old mother, Winnie who suffers from dementia and faces eviction from her care home.

He told Tonight: "The council, they won’t pay the higher fee that the home wants – so she is just stuck in limbo at the moment."

As a pensioner himself, Jeff is unable to afford the shortfall and fears what will happen to his mother if she has to move home.

Josh Hawker from AbleCare Homes describes what’s happening as a two-tier system where families who can’t afford the top up fees "are at the mercy of what the council can afford which is increasingly quite scary".

Meanwhile, back in Birmingham, Tonight visits a youth project to see what the £2m cuts to youth services mean for the next generation and finds that, with the loss of 40 such projects over the past 10 years, there are still groups working hard to keep young people off the streets and beat rising knife crime.

As young Lei’maie-Zhyon Richards takes to the stage to show the musical skills developed at a Handsworth youth project, her mother says: "Kids as young as 15 are being killed over senseless stuff – when they could be in a community centre."

On another, bigger stage across Birmingham, Joe Lycett has a warning for us all: "Dimming the lights is funny, bins are funny. But I don’t want to be writing jokes about my city that I love falling apart. I fear it’s coming to many more councils around the country."

Watch ITV Tonight: How Broke is your Council? on ITV1 and ITVX tonight at 8.30pm.

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