The fabric of Britain as we know it is being ripped apart. So much is changing, almost behind our backs, we haven't got time to notice what is happening to us. And it is happening fast.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

I Used To Froth Alone

Sometimes the British feel it’s not their place to complain – if something doesn’t affect you directly, do you have the right to have an opinion on it? If you weren’t offended by a joke on television until a friend explained why you could be, does that mean you have no right to be offended at all?

I’m not one of the most vulnerable in society. I am not elderly, nor the working poor or disabled. I wasn’t overly worried initially when the coalition government came into power. I thought I hadn’t or wouldn’t be that affected by any cuts. Time has shaken me up.

New graduates with a small child, both my husband and my careers suddenly disappeared in the last few years – My local Council’s plans to train me for a role in Sure Start management quietly disappeared. Sure Start and the work it does helping vulnerable families and children is not a protected area of spending – despite the positive impact they were having. As just one tiny example of the fantastic things they do: one of the major barriers to work for the long time unemployed is poor numeracy and literacy skills – teenagers who left school with no English or Maths qualifications may struggle to ever get a job. Many Sure Start centres offer free numeracy and literacy classes, with free on-site crèche for the kids. Giving parents the chance to get off benefits and into work, and improving their childrens likely futures at the same time. Many councils forced to make budget cuts have made the decision to close or limit the facilities at their centres. 124 Sure Start Centres have closed since the coalition took over.

At the same time my husbands graduate job in the private sector was withdrawn before he could start. Public sector cuts meant his private sector job wasn’t needed anymore, massive job losses in his field followed.

We were lucky, after only a few months my husband found a job in a totally new area and slightly different field, so we got on our hypothetical bikes and moved there to start again. For now at least my career is on hold, childcare costs too high for both of us to work.

Our daughter is only 2, but I cried when I heard about the rise in student fees. What if my daughter wants to be a doctor? We have no spare money to save for her education, rents are high and we have our own student debt to pay off. 7 years of £9k debt, plus maintenance loans, plus interest... currently the deal is that she would not have to pay the loan back unless she was earning well. I say currently, because there is no line in the contract making that deal permanent. Future governments can perfectly legally change their mind and demand the money back in one payment if they so wish, or more likely, demand that repayments start at much lower income levels and with higher rates of interest. Even Universities are changing their fee levels after prospective students have made their choices and committed to a financial option. Would I be right to encourage my child to take this risk at a time when graduate earnings aren’t very much higher (doing some quick maths - only £2.2k per year more, before taking off loan repayments) than non-graduate earnings? No matter how clever or academic she may be? The day after the rise in fees was passed I met Andrew Lansley at a charity concert. Unable to resist the opportunity I asked him which way he had voted. For, he said. I told him that I was extremely disappointed in that. He tried to empathise, and told me he has a child who will have to pay the fees.

He doesn’t though. He’s an extremely wealthy member of parliament. If he has any sense he will pay for his daughter’s University education and let her start her adult life debt free. Do the rest of us have that option? Some do. But no. Not most. It was the moment I realised very clearly that the government just do not understand what life is like on even an average wage of 22k a year – let alone what it is like to be in the poorest 5%.

It’s not just on my families behalf that I froth.

My first childcare related job was in a mainstream state school. Amongst others I worked with several children with a range of disabilities, and as someone who’d known nothing about the funding system behind getting these children the help they needed to fulfil their potentials – the reality of the system seemed insane. Every so often the parents of a child who was permanently incontinent and could never be left unsupervised would let us know all her funding had been revoked and they were in the process of sorting it out, on second inspection whichever government body had decided the child was well enough not to need extra one to one support would realise that of course they did. The stress and the loss of much needed money was always unnecessary but still happened with stunning regularity.

With every change I’ve seen since then to do with Disabled Living Allowance – in all its new forms and acronyms, I have thought of that family and the future of that child. What if when that child grows up they are never able to work? Will they be stuck in the trap between ESA and JSA, with no income for 6 months out of every 18? How will their parents cope?

When I first started talking about working for Sure Start it was children like that who I particularly wanted to help. I still want the chance, and I know having been there once that free access to facilities like the NHS, Educational ‘extras’ like one to one support where needed and Sure Start is hugely important when it comes to making a difference. The very vulnerable and poor don’t have a few pounds a week to give for these services. These services are not and should never be about making money.

As all of this started to sink in I didn’t feel like there was anything I could do but get angry and moan, the next election is a long way away – until #Frothers. It is a great place for a rant – but it’s also about bringing together the campaigns fighting against these cuts. About making people aware of all the little cuts that might have slipped past their radar and not been widely reported, so that one place catalogues the full picture of just how immense the changes are. About putting the general public in contact with their own MPs and letting them have their say outside of one moment at the ballot box.

My role at #Frothers is part of a team of technical support – supporting the dozens of fantastic writers bringing you all the details of how cuts have affected them personally and the campaigns against them.

We are a team that is a mix of those directly affected, partly affected and not affected at all but utterly sympathetic.

With fingers crossed, the cuts won’t ruin my family the way they may ruin others, but I am here all the same, frothing in support -because the other thing that is extraordinarily British besides not wanting to moan too much – is looking after those we feel responsible for, putting the vulnerable first, even if doing so is unpopular or our motivations for doing so aren’t well understood.

The measure of any society is how it treats it’s most vulnerable members, what will our society become if we refuse to fight for them now?

By TeWi, part of #Frothers TechTeam, Frothing for the great and good.

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  1. Brilliant post. I especially liked your last question - although I wonder how much of a 'society' we're building with this government. Certainly not a civilised one, sadly.

  2. Fantastic post.

    I am in a similar position, in that the cuts will not affect me personally (although they may well affect my family in Scotland). As Frothingangry posted earlier this week, to think that you will never be touched by the changes is naive and dangerous. We are all but an unexpected redundancy or sudden illness away from needing the support of the state.

    It seems to me that everyone in UK is so fed up and disillusioned, that they don't have the time and energy left to fight this - if they even notice what is happening.

  3. An excellent post, the cuts are a having a wide reaching impact that few predicted at the outset. There will soon be very few who will escape any impact at all (mainly MPs I should imagine)

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  5. Thank you for a very moving and trenchant post. And for supporting the Frothers.

  6. Amazing, moving and eloquent post.

    I am tough as old boots but there were parts of that post that really got to me. Thank goodness for the positive end or I may have just felt awful, crushing despair.

    Thank you for showing we are not alone.

  7. Brilliant and poignant.

    Big society? Fractured society maybe...

  8. Totally wonderful post. Thank you. I have something in my eye...

  9. Great article TeWi. Very impassioned like I said elsewhere. Let's hope it make people at least THINK!


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