The Blog

Austerity Bites

Behind the austerity sound-bites and 'all in this together' rhetoric our society is rich to vulgar proportions. We have the necessary wealth, only for it to be hidden away off-shore or within the pockets of the few, but that's a broader rant for another day.

I admit I'm guilty of the odd rant. Mostly it remains in my head. Sometimes Janet makes eye contact and immediately wishes she hadn't. Occasionally it spills over onto Twitter, and rarer still onto my blog.

This one falls into the latter category so I can only apologise, but it's for good reason.

You see whilst sat amongst a mountain of washing and with housework to be done I decided instead to read Trafford Council's budget proposal for 2015/16, because my procrastination knows no bounds.

It made me angry, and the more I read the angrier I got. Angry with the council, angry with the government, with society and with myself.

To add some context we fall under the label of 'working poor'. An oxymoron so entrenched in our psyche as to be accepted as an actual class?

Janet works full-time and now the kids are both in school I'm about to start a degree and work part-time. We're lucky. We survive, albeit with state handouts. We get by where others don't. Close enough to the breadline to empathise with those below.

So as our Council Leader Sean Anstee requested, I read the proposal with an open mind. Considered the wider context and appreciated their bold and brave approach. Took it on face value that he genuinely cares about each pocket of our community, and when it comes to austerity, we're all in this together.

Now in their defence they do need to make £24M worth of savings next year, which in anyone's language is a lot of cuts. I say anyone, except the council it seems who don't make one single mention of the word cut. They have however found over a dozen synonyms thereof. Disestablish, reshape, refine, reallocate, revise, restructure, reduce to minimum statutory requirements to name but a few.

But there's a pocket of our community that seems to be cared about less that others. A pocket without a voice. A pocket who bare no responsibility for the financial mess we're in and perhaps more pertinently, have no vote. Children.

Because £18M of the savings are to come from the Children, Families and Wellbeing budget. That's 75% which will directly affect the young and most vulnerable in Trafford.

For example:

37 out of the 97 school crossing patrols are to be cut disestablished. But worry not, any school affected has the opportunity to fund it themselves.

Really? From a budget already subsidised by parents weekly contribution towards early years provisions? A budget that need regular fund-raising to replace old equipment. Whose resources are so tight that a broken boiler closed the entire school for a week because they can't obtain funding to remove the asbestos from the pipes?

They're closing four of our remaining six children's centres (there were ten). Surestart centres. Centres specialising in early years education and childcare for under five's. Centres that I depended on when I first became a stay-at-home dad and whose support services are fundamental to improving the prospects of disadvantaged children and their parents.

Removing early years activities and Holiday Play Schemes. Opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach for most low income families.

Closure of our six open access youth centres. Local centres that offer affordable opportunities for teenagers to develop personally and socially. To be creative and learn. Teenagers who without such subsidised centres have little else available.

And a further £700k cut from the libraries budget. Libraries depended upon by young and old alike. A service already heavily reliant on volunteers and yet still not considered to be offering sufficient value-for-money?

So when Cllr Anstee says 'change is difficult and can sometimes be hard to absorb initially' he's right. For those who can afford it will dig deep into the their pockets and pay for alternatives. But for the poorest and most vulnerable in Trafford there is no 'initially', it's open-ended. Without the support of their community there's nothing. We might all be in this together but for every person dipping their toes into austerity there's many more up to their f*cking necks already.

And none more so than the children from the poorest families. Children of whom we have a duty of care, a fundamental need to support, and surely a degree of immunity from the cuts to which they bare no responsibility?

A copy of this budget proposal should be handed out to every child in Trafford, because this betrayal of their generation should never be forgotten.

But I'm also not naïve enough to think this is all the councils fault. I understand they have to make savings. I've looked through the entire budget and admit I can't suggest where these savings could be made elsewhere, and nor can the Labour councillors in opposition, because for all their faux anger they've yet to come up with an alternative budget.

So I'm angry with the government too. Because behind the austerity sound-bites and 'all in this together' rhetoric our society is rich to vulgar proportions. We have the necessary wealth, only for it to be hidden away off-shore or within the pockets of the few, but that's a broader rant for another day.

But most of all I'm angry with myself. Because after tweeting my frustration, Facebook messaging my annoyance, signing online petitions and writing this blog post what have I actually achieved? Nothing.

I'm the epitome of the modern-day passive activist. I tweet an opinion then smugly sit down on my moral compass like I made some sort of difference. 'Like' a protest march on Facebook without ever leaving the sofa. Share a good cause without looking up from my phone.

So I'm getting off my backside and going to the public consultation next month with a list of questions. I'm writing to all concerned, and I'm making a concerted effort to at least hold those responsible to account. It probably won't make a jot of difference but so long as I just cynically mutter to myself or vent my anger in bursts of 140 characters or less then I'm in no position to apportion blame. At best I'm tweeting to the converted, at worst, I'm constitutionally part of the problem.

As an aside, Council Leader Sean Anstee has just been awarded a 30% pay rise to recognise his 'increased workload'. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this and look forward to hearing how he gets on running the voluntary baby massage classes I assume this workload includes.