Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

THE CUTS: FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS – AND PREPARE TO FIGHT BACK!

In Editorial on December 16, 2010 at 11:06 am

An iconic image of the hungry ‘thirties was of the unemployed slumped in public libraries – reading the newspapers, studying the bookshelves, or merely seeking somewhere to go out of the cold.

Now, it seems, even that refuge is to be denied the current generation of those who are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the coalition’s cuts. In Gloucestershire it seems the library service has been targeted for swingeing cuts. Some are to be closed, others will have their opening hours severely curtailed – and some, including those in Cinderford, Mitcheldean, Bream and Newnham, will be offered to “the community” to be run on a part-time basis. As if! In all, eleven libraries are facing closure across the county.

And in nearby Somerset, the County Council’s arts budget is to be axed completely. The same pattern, with minor variations, is being repeated throughout the country.

The slump years of the 1930s were grim indeed – but at least local councils were able, to a limited degree, to compensate for the savage cuts imposed by central government at the time. Now, with local authority spending controlled from the centre, even this is denied.

For those who rely on local government services, the future looks bleak. There will be less to spend on maintaining our roads. The provision of care for the elderly and infirm is likely to be cut back. In some areas, rubbish collection will be cut as well. And youth services in the county are having £3.6 million slashed from their £10 million budget – over a third. As we warned in a recent issue of the Clarion, “It will be a case of ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’. When a library is closed down, or a facility for old folk, it is unlikely ever to be replaced or re-opened.” (the Clarion, August/September).

Apart from the local picture we now have some idea of how the cuts nationally are going to affect us. These “economies”, to be imposed by a cut-crazed Chancellor, have been well publicised in the media, and apart from the rich, few of us will escape unscathed. As befits a Tory-led coalition government, the poorer you are, the more disadvantaged, the greater the impact will be. The Chancellor, George Osborne has so far sliced the welfare budget by £18 billion. It’s no wonder that The Observer newspaper headlined its article on Osborne’s cuts, “No Country for Poor People?”

The protests, of course, have already begun. It was the students who took to the streets first, protesting at the threatened hike in student fees that will result in them remaining in debt until well into middle age (unless maybe they can land a well-paid job in the banking sector?). The media of course focused on the direct action taken by a small number at Tory HQ in Millbank, London – but whether we like it or not, this may be a foretaste of what’s to come elsewhere. Incidentally, it’s ironic that a government so obsessed with debt seems so intent on piling it on to students!

As cuts really begin to bite we can expect a rise in the number of protests and demonstrations mounted by trade unions as thousands of jobs in the public sector and elsewhere are threatened. Some may well become unruly, and we can expect pious denunciationsfrom newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Telegraph. But in the circumstances, what do they expect? Indeed, what does the Tory Government with its rag-tag collection of Lib-Dem supporters expect?

THOSE WITH NO VOICE:

Many who face the brunt of the Tory cuts have unions or other bodies to allow them a collective voice. And they deserve the backing of the wider community. But those who will be hit by the callous cut in housing benefit have no such voice. Families may well lose homes, or have to move from their communities, as a result. Already, accusations of “social cleansing” have been made, as the poor and workless are faced with being shunted out of parts of London – and perhaps face a new, bleak future on the streets.

We cannot afford to be selective in our opposition to the cuts. It’s a threat that affects a wide range of people and services across the board in communities throughout the country. What we are seeing is a concerted attack on the public sector, on which to some degree we all rely. But we can’t cherry pick when it comes to deciding which services or whose jobs we want to support. We’re all in this together, and we should act together to fight this Government attack on the community as a whole…

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