Whatever happened to “compassionate Conservatism”?

Rachael Maskell, national officer for the health and voluntary sectors at Unite the Union, reports on the human impact of the Tory-led government's massive cuts.

Rachael Maskell, national officer for the health and voluntary sectors at Unite, which is fighting to save voluntary sector jobs and services, and recently launched its Unite for our Society campaign

Where do I begin to tell the story of the voluntary sector cuts? Is it with £5 billion cut from £12.8bn state funding to organisations providing crucial niche services to some of the most marginalised in our society? These are serious cuts to a sector that is too scared to bite the hand that feeds it.

Alright, the government has put £300 million transition funding and Big Society Bank money back into the sector but yesterday’s budget can only cause us to conclude that all they are doing is fiddling round the fringes of the sector.

Government’s efforts will not enable a big society, a little society, or any such thing as society.

Children, our future, are being hit hard. An estimated 250 children’s centres are marked for closure and many more will offer only severely reduced services. Children’s centres, marked as one of the greatest successes in engaging with hard to reach families and giving little ones a chance to start life with sure foundations, will no longer provide universal cover.

Let’s be frank, those who use these services need them most. These children will be denied life chances that decent societies should offer; parents denied the very support they need to nurture their children.

But it doesn’t stop with pre-age children. Action for Children’s Westwood School will be closing next week, displacing children and staff. A school that makes a real difference to the lives of its pupils with challenging behaviour and support needs. Kent County Council refuses to fund this school to remain open, despite children coming up to their important exams.

What about housing? Supporting People funding has been slashed by local authorities up and down the country. Staff wages have been reduced by about £4,000 to around the minimum wage mark, but the service has also been reduced so significantly that people in genuine need will really suffer.

Supporting People funds services to help the elderly, the mentally ill, former substance abusers. It helps former homeless people manage their lives and stay in their homes, find work and have a future and respect. Cutting this funding will only lead to people returning to homelessness, to their former chaotic existence or struggling for an existence at all.

But where do these people turn for help? To their CAB. No longer. The funding cuts to Citizens Advice Bureaux, such as in Birmingham, will lead to advice deserts up and down the land. The justice bill soon to be introduced to parliament will ensure those who have survived the local authority axe will lose the ability to provide any social welfare advice (£350m cut) on housing, employment, benefits or family matters. Never has there been such a demand for the service, yet they are being decimated.

Tower Hamlets, the third most deprived community, is hanging onto its CAB by a thread, only because its staff, already low paid, were prepared to take a 10 per cent pay cut this year. They made the sacrifice only to discover that the service will soon go altogether.

When you crush the weakest, then remove their voice and recourse to justice, can it still be called “compassionate Conservatism”?

Then there’s the Arts – community arts projects up and down the country closing, like the theatre companies in the South Wales valleys, including Spectacle Theatre, which helps engage unemployed young people to channel their energies positively. Or the UK Film Council abolition. An organisation which brings £5 into the economy for every £1 spent and was globally celebrated as a result of The Kings Speech will now be broken up, with jobs lost.

Liverpool CVS cuts are yet another crazy decision. As its budget and thus staffing will be halved, this organisation – the hub for supporting so many others – will no longer function as it should. Volunteers will have no-one to help them volunteer and organisations will have no one to help them survive. Liverpool and Sefton Age Concern has said that with its 52 per cent funding cut that this will mean that service users will die. Luncheon clubs, the only connection for an elderly person to have contact with another will be gone.

There and now hundreds and hundreds of stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary cuts. Who will speak for them?

From the very young, through every age and need group until we reach our elders, the pain these cuts cause is astronomical. The cost on acute services is incalculable. And the path of ruin crossing the lives of countless people is immeasurable.

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