So the day of the statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review has arrived. It seems that this moment has almost been worked up into a frenzy by politicians and our own managers in extremis.
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‘We’ll know better what’s happening after the 20th’ has been muttered across corridors throughout the public sector as if all will be revealed. And perhaps it will be.
So much seems to have leaked out though that we have been well-insulated for an expectation for the worse. Personally, I don’t doubt that the final leak, Danny Alexander’s photographed document which speaks of up to 490,000 jobs going in the public sector was not a gaffe really but an intentional leak to prepare the public, through the media for some of the worst news. Perhaps I’m overly cynical and it was a genuine error but I think the way that this review and statement and worse, the military review was leakier than a colander, initiates a certain amount of cynicism.
Last week, I attended a training course with social workers from across a few different boroughs. While we were having lunch, someone was railing not on the usual line about how everyone hates social workers, but rather, with a new slant that everyone hates public sector workers. We nodded sympathetically. I think it’s an interesting leap out of some of the usual self-absorption and pity that follows groups of social workers like a mini-rain cloud over our collective heads that now we were able to look beyond that and identify with the public sector workforce as a whole.
I personally haven’t felt that. Possibly because about 90% of my friends work in the public sector so there isn’t much hatred to express but there is a general dichotomy growing within the country that wages spent on public services must be bad.
Of course, we know (because we’ve been brainwashed into the narrative) that debt is bad – national debt, that is because the 00s were all about telling us to borrow up to the max and beyond – so must be repaid as quickly as possible.
Highest costs are in personnel of course so it makes sense on this logic that jobs will be cut but there is no doubt that the front-line will be absolutely affected.
The spending in the NHS has been protected and increased in real terms. I’m a little dubious about this to be honest. I work in a team and an organisation that is cutting back very real services and working with a fair few vacancies that will not be filled. Other teams around my borough have been told that posts will be eliminated and from what I hear this is fairly standard.
The money will probably be lost in meeting additional costs to cover a generally ageing and more depressed society who are becoming more obese and suffering from greater poverty. The additional money will be pushed into things like cancer treatments – and don’t get me wrong, having lost both of my parents prematurely to cancer, I have all the sympathy in the world for pushing cancer treatments but there is an element of ‘playing to the crowds’ about this. Funding cancer treatments is always going to be positive. Pushing money into acute mental health services, less likely.
Much has been made of the leak yesterday about the housing budgets being cut. This is scandalous in my opinion. Anyone who has spent a day in a social services department will know the impact that poor housing has on the well-being of a person and their family. I could write reams and reams solely about personal battles with particular housing departments – but it wouldn’t be terribly exciting and actually, I’ve come across some much more pleasant housing officers more recently (they still can’t help, they are just more polite about it).
Turning on housing to make cuts seems to be just building up problems and difficulties for future years and generations. I have seen some of the cruelty and greed of private landlords on a number of occasions when their tenants have needs related to disabilities – when they have stopped working and they think they can get higher prices by forcing people out by refusing all adaptations – issues that have had to be picked up by social housing and have been. Perhaps it would be different if I worked in a area that did not command incredible rental costs due to the central London location but housing – and secure and stable housing – is so vitally important to mental and physical wellbeing that cuts, cuts, cuts may well lead to excessive future costs.
My concerns are not solely about cuts that have to be made. There’s an understanding that cuts would have happened in any case, that jobs would have been lost in the public sector regardless – but this seems to be a government with a trigger happy glee about targetting some of the most vulnerable in society.
We know the welfare benefits will be slashed. I would keep an eye out for announcements on DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and AA (Attendance Allowance) – which the general narrative seems to be confusing fatally with ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and Incapacity Benefit. DLA and AA are currently non-means tested. They absolutely need to remain non-means tested. I have a sinking feeling that may not be the case in the future but I really really really hope I’m wrong on that. That’s something I would march to parliament about.
My other concern remains and I know this is hopeless, about local authority budgets being slashed by capping council tax charges but more, by pushing more costs away from central government and onto local authorities. The ILF (Independent living fund) which assists in the funding of care packages for those adults of working age with the highest needs in matching the local authority support pound for pound, has already frozen new claims. This is going to place an enormous cost burden back onto local authorities.
Over at the Guardian, Patrick Butler has set up a new Cuts Blog set up which will follow future developments and their effects. I can’t say it’s likely to be cheery reading but as a document in social policy, it may well be interesting to see the changes emerge as they are happening.
I’ll be following the announcements as closely as I can today – I’m not at work so will be watching but at 6am I have a bitter taste in my mouth.
- Danny Alexander accidentally reveals CSR (newstatesman.com)
- Spending review: day of cuts begins with raid on BBC (guardian.co.uk)
- Don’t forget where you were when the CSR hit us (liberalconspiracy.org)
- NHS slashes thousands of jobs – despite pledge to protect it from cuts (independent.co.uk)