THE BLOG

This Election, Let's Transform The Places We Live

08/06/2017 13:27

Since the Conservatives took power in 2010 I've lived at eight addresses in five councils - some have been on airy streets with flowers at windows, others with drab facades looking onto arterial roads. But all have been in areas experiencing steady decline.

In the last budget, my local libraries were shut an extra day (in my previous borough, many had been shut entirely). In my city, 10 fire stations have been scrapped. Lunch clubs that tackled isolation among older people are gone. In another previous residence, nearly 40% of funding for homelessness support was scrapped.

This election is about the bread and butter of our communities - schools, hospitals, police, trains, roads. But it's a bigger picture than that. As wages fall (in-work poverty is breaking records), disposable income falls, and local businesses are starved of customers. With few local opportunities, talented people often drift away from smaller towns towards places like London, where they are sucked into a vicious housing market. Our communities are slowly - but surely - drying up.

The £78billion we spend every year on paying for the costs of extreme poverty should be a wake-up call. In January 2013 in Gloucester, a child stopped attending school, unable to face the embarrassment of having no lunch. An official visiting the family found them penniless after their benefits were stopped owing to "changed circumstances" - the father had left.

We were told such things were necessary to balance the budget. But instead we have had the worst of both worlds; both an unsolved deficit, and devastating funding cuts.

May and the Conservatives are asking us to accept five more years of this to meet targets they're seven years behind on.

Imagine that. Imagine a medium-sized town in 2022. Ambulances, firefighters and police are down - and so are the "back-office functions" - i.e. people who ensure bins get collected, that trading standards are followed, and so on.

The local hospital has closed. With 4 in 5 NHS trusts in deficit by 2017 and more real-terms cuts planned for 2018-19, how couldn't it? Some hospital staff kept their jobs (on bitterly low wages - "there isn't a money tree", says May. They start earlier for a longer commute to the nearest hospital, on an unreliable, expensive bus, on a potholed road. Rubbish and graffiti line the road.

On the commute, once-thriving shops are boarded-up. Kids linger outside run-down tennis courts by the former youth centre - now for sale. The bus trundles past the closed doors of houses where rent has risen for another five years running. Behind those doors the heating is off even in winter (in March 2017 bills were expected to rise by up to 60%). On the outskirts there are gated luxury flats by the train station. The bus trundles up a hill and for a moment, looking down onto a bustling scene, with even a few trees still maintained, you can imagine what this place - this country - could be without a decade of neglect, bad planning and missed opportunities.

There is an alternative.

Labour's manifesto desires a fairer wealth balance, but also a fairer balance of power. The two go hand-in-hand. Rail renationalisation will not only mean the government rather than Southern running rains, but a chance for communities to help control how services are provided. Local people know better than profiteers where investment is needed, what routes and stops are missing, and how affordable a ticket is. Publicly-run services will not pocket £52m of passengers' money to hand out in profits after failing commuters (see: Southern's owners).

Labour had a huge job in identifying funding sources to pledge the resources, consumer rights and rights at work we need. They have not just promised essential, but the things that make our lives richer, more enjoyable, more successful. Labour's plans for a "cultural capital fund", "national investment bank" and "industrial strategy" may sound dry, but the difference they can make is anything but.

It's faster internet speeds in your home. It's new books in a refurbished library. It's a grant to help a local shop or pub stay open. It's finding the next Messi or Picasso among children given access to art, music and sports. It's upgrading old industries or setting up a high-tech new one to bring in jobs. It's your community owning its own turbines or solar panels and selling the excess power back to the National Grid. It's cleaner, greener streets with better spaces for people to mingle freely. It's trust, dignity and purpose.

Our dreary, neglected streets are not inevitable. They persist because May's Conservatives have chosen service cuts for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich.

It's time to do things differently - on June 8th, let's vote to take back control of our roads and rails, our towns and cities, our lives and our potential, our future.

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