Monday, 6 December 2010

Cuts and the real world

My last post was a very cheerful one about being back from the holiday of a lifetime. Well the intervening weeks are proof that I'm well and truly back in 'Kansas' and Aunty Em is no use at all.

I'm going to start with a personal and, you might think, selfish tale of woe as to how the cuts proposed by the Coalition might affect my family. Then I'll move to the world I work in and the projects and people that will be hard hit.

Child benefit will be frozen. Okay - I don't need it and would never ask for it and I'm grateful for what it has meant in terms of keeping rapidly growing kids in shoes and trousers. Also, because of an admin error a few years ago, I got a lump sum back-paid that meant we could buy the computer we had always wanted. And on an ideological point - this was a universal benefit which is targeted to women (and single fathers). There are still men who control the family finances in a way that leaves the mother financially vulnerable or even abused. So let's kick women, especially vulnerable ones.

The threshold for Child Tax Credits is changing - again not something I asked for, lobbied for, or felt I needed - but hey, it's been useful and you kind of get to rely on these things.

My son wants to work in technical theatre - funding for the arts is being slashed massively and disproportionately. The arts bring billions of pounds into the UK every year - London theatres alone have seen income of over half a billion pounds already in 2010. He is due to go to university in 2012, just as the increase in fees will come in if the ConDems get their way on Thursday. The silver lining re the amount of debt he is likely to generate is that technical work in theatres is not paid particularly well - so it will be sometime before he has to pay it back (let's ignore the fact that interest will continue to accrue). Add in the possibility that the real value State pensions continue to erode (over 40 years!) and he can look forward to a grim retirement, as he'll be so busy paying off his student loan he won't have the disposable income to pay into a private scheme....

The very good Comprehensive School that he goes to has a performing arts specialism - the budget for this has been generous and helped the school achieve consistently excellent results, as well as in it's other specialisms of Maths & Computing and Applied Learning and being an International Baccalaureate award school. The school has done very well in renewing its buildings in recent years - huge sympathy to those who were all set to do similar work to gain luxuries such as indoor toilet blocks, no leaks in the ceilings, heating systems that work and space for learning. The School is now feeling the pressure to consider academy status... one's tempted to say 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' but it may well become 'broke' if it doesn't jump on the idealogues' bandwagon.

My daughter has music lessons in school. Already expensive - music in schools is under threat. So...

Then there is my Husband's public sector job in the NHS. Huge cuts to PCT budgets, knee-jerk decision making, lack of any proper consultation or joined up thinking. If he is one of the 'lucky' ones who still has a job after March it will be without resources and colleagues who have been an important part of delivering the work. Not only will there be a loss of immediate colleagues but also threatened are a number of projects through which the work is able to impact on thousands of people in the Borough.

Then there is the increase in VAT...

Okay - that was a quick snapshot of some of the ways in which my family might be directly affected by all this regressive ideological posturing. Yes, I know the deficit needs dealing with but I would rather pay more income tax than live with the chaos and anxiety that all this is causing. We have a roof over our heads and will be able to pay basic bills and eat food if Sandy's job goes - assuming I stay well and don't give in to burn out. There are so many people in much more vulnerable positions and that is what I want to reflect on now (or rant about).

I visited a women's refuge today. The very good housing association which offers them support is under a lot of pressure due to funding cuts. The one post funded almost entirely by the Council is almost certain to go in March. There's more to worry about though - if people have benefits cut, or lose their jobs, pressure increases on families. Those who for whatever reason beat or emotionally or economically control their partners and children will reach trigger points more quickly. Restrictions to housing benefit and the number of houses will also add pressure. Those who are ready to leave the refuge after a time of support will be more difficult to place as housing stock pressures increase.

Most of the Churches in my Circuit run financially on the income from lettings, many of which are council funded projects. The 'big society' (ha, see me laugh) is and has been alive and well for years in churches that subsidise community projects by not charging commercial rents, by offering volunteers to those projects or to keep the buildings warm and safe. If these projects fold due to lack of funding the Churches may not be able to keep going and the wider community suffers. Church supported projects such as Street Pastors make a huge difference to an area - how safe is their funding? The pennies in the plate given by pensioners and the large amounts given by those who can (widows' mites) subsidise the well-being of hundreds of thousands of elderly people, play-group children, young mums, kids having dance classes, soup kitchens, nurseries, people who are mentally ill, lonely people, those who have disabilities..... this is the kingdom of God. Less importantly but, perhaps more persuasively for politicians and councillors, this all represents amazing value for money.

This is all under threat - if these projects and relationships are broken, diminished or ended it will be a lot more expensive to replace them when our 'big society' falls apart and the infrastructure has been lost. Not only will the babies be thrown out with the bath water - the bath itself and the source of water will have gone as well.