Wednesday 14 October 2015

Corbyn and Council Cuts: Time for a united resistance?

Local councils are currently drawing up their budgets for 2016-17 with the accompanying cuts to accommodate the cuts in local government funding. Council leaders across the political spectrum have warned that these are cuts too far and will have a devastating impact on core services.

The budgets are often part of a 3 or 4 year plan started a year or two ago. Labour councils (and the defeated Green minority council in Brighton) have used the 'dented shield' argument that only they can make the chocies that will preserve vital services.  This looks increasingly weak as the cuts accumulate and the poor are hit.

Since those cuts were projected in budgets the political situation has changed. On the one hand the Tories are back in power but on the other hand Jeremy Corbyn has won the leadership on an anti-austerity ticket with a surge of support, often from local activists involved in housing, NHS and cuts campaigns.

The run up to local and the London Mayoral and GLA elections will be accompanied by local press stories on the council cuts and their impact on vulnerable adult care, children's social services, provision for children with special education needs, local libraries and youth provision.

Labour will be in the contradictory position of having an anti-austerity national Labour leadership and a local leadership that is implementing the government's anti-austerity measures.

There has been a silence from the new Labour shadow cabinet on this so far but the call for resistance and a strong campaign based on local activists and public sector unions that was made under the last Labour leadership by the left must surely be repeated with added urgency now?

I have raised this issue in Green Party circles with a varied response. Some have shrugged and said, 'What else can local councils do?' and suggested we concentrate on the source of the cuts - the Tories and their ideology - emphasising that there is no need for the cuts but it is a choice that the Conservatives have made: Councils have no choice. This leaves us with divisive debates about exactly where the cuts will fall.

Others see the Corbyn phenomenon and the various broad alliances proposed (Momentum, Red Pepper circles etc) as well as the People's Assembly and trade unions as an opportunity to build a massive resistance.

What advice will Corbyn give local coucils?

I publish below a response I received about this from a Green Party activist:

I agree that we have to draw attention to the inconsistency between having an "anti-austerity" policy position, whilst being forced to implement austerity cuts locally, which are once again directed at the most vulnerable, in a deliberately discriminatory and disproportionate manner.

e.g. Disability groups have been calling for a 'Cumulative Impact Assessment' (CIA) to asess what the cumulative effects are, of 'multiple cuts' to different services and benefits, on those who (being the most vulnerable) rely on a range of different benefits and services. There are assessments of each individual cut, but no asessment of those who are subjected to multiple cuts over time. This has been requested repeatedly for several years now, and the Government/DWP still refuses to do it. Meanwhile, there has been a rise in the death-toll of vulnerable people, and those people deserve not to die unacknowledged, while their 'deaths' were a deliberate 'colateral-damage' decision, which was made by Tory 'policy-makers'.

"The United Nations is carrying out an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UK government"

We need to be behind this move by the UN and seen to be showing solidarity with anti-austerity disabled rights groups around the country, who have been on the receiving end of these deliberately 'Targeted' cuts for 5 years already. Cuts which have potentially contributed to thousands of deaths.

Either Labour are going to be an opposition thorn in this sociopathic government's side, or they are going to continue with the Neoliberal narrative that 'economics' makes it all inevitable because... money, family purse, budget... mixing macro-economics with family economics like the Tories always do, and confusing people's perceptions of how 'money/debt' is created (while the Tories have doubled the 'debt' and handed the 'money' to their old-school corporate chums). The Green Party has a new and important policy around money-creation, and this is also a big opportunity for Greens to push that & to explain it to the public, so as to dispell the 40 year old Thatcherite meme of a family purse budget.

A Green New Deal is beneficial socially, economically and environmentally. It ticks all the boxes as the alternative to 'austerity'. A nation-wide renewable energy and energy efficiency programme (managed at the 'Local' level), coupled to electrification of transport (which would require offshore wind wave tidal development), would be a massive (but increasingly urgent) undertaking, which would both improve 'quality-of-life' for people locally, as well as mitigate some of the damage we're doing to the environment. Voters need to know that the Tory government are letting Britain be left behind in the new global renewable energy industry, which has massive social & economic benefits if encouraged to prosper.

One of Thatcher's biggest crimes, was not investing North Sea oil tax revenues in the renewable energy technologies which were available at the time, like on/offshore wind power, and solar water heaters & insulation for homes etc etc. The 'jobs' thus created could have replaced the coal jobs lost, instead of throwing tens of thousands into unemployment, with no new jobs to go to. Those new sustainable jobs are still screaming out to be created. Austerity is a lie. It is the diversion of Public money into Private offshore accounts without the 'societal' benefits that should come from creating that money.

But let's not forget there are powerful neoliberal forces in Labour still. The first Bail-Out was under Brown and that alone was enough to pay off every single mortgage in the UK at the time. Those people haven't just gone away because Corbyn became 'Leader' and there hasn't been a huge shift in policy position by the Parliamentary Labour Party as far as I can tell - so far.

Earl Bramley-Howard
West Mendip Green Party


Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

Thanks for this, Martin and Earl

I agree wholeheartedly about the need for Green Party members to support the UN in tackling UK Government abuses of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). For outlines of how UNCRPD could and should help bring about greater equality for disabled people, there is the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) Manifesto.

While the stuff against 'localism' and 'post code lottery' might not appeal to many Green Party members, I note that the disabled people's charity I worked for part-time in 2005 to 2006 told me that in-service training was extremely limited for domiciliary care workers due to year upon year of 'zero growth' funding budgets from the local [Labour] council. That scuppered my prospects for advancement, given the very wide range of 'service user needs' that I would need to help address for the different 'service users'' in shifts of about 3 hrs apiece toward accumulating sufficient earnings at £7.81 per hour [contact time only] to help me break free from JSA. A six hour week would net the worker £46.86, but the JSA claimant would only be allowed JSA top-up to the amount of a £5/wk 'earnings disregard'. Yet my connections with that charity through volunteering had helped me overcome the barrier of an 'employment history' cluttered with short-lived volunteering projects.

As a Basic Education Learning Support volunteer in a non-statorily funded Computer Club project for adults with learning difficulties/disabilities, I had been highly commended informally for my rapport with the service users/learners, and the club leader had won a Guardian newspaper Teachers award re Adult Special Needs Learning [or whatever the category was called] for her founding of the project.(Sadly, Channel4's broadcasting of the awards event excluded her category. Yet when the year had run out, there was no further funding for that project.

A Labour Government Disability Minister signed the UK up to the UNCRPD in 2007, yet in 2008 a disabled banker David Freud was unfurled as Labour's 'welfare reform guru' with obvious ignorance of disability equality issues, and promoting the idea of 'payment by results' to private contractors. He has since transferred his allegiances to a Conservative Government for a peerage as its Welfare Reform Minister.

I have since received limited support from my own local council's Learning Disabilities Services by way of assessment results that helped me prove my eligibility for Employment & Support Allowance Support Group status; yet because "in the UK, the threshold for learning disability is usually set at an IQ of below 70" and none of my 'IQ scores' are actually 70 or below, I have been told that I do not qualify for so much as a diagnosis of what my disability is.

I believe, especially given the disparities between my own career background and that of David Freud, that a major way forward in promoting disability equality would be to move from excessive veneration of 'transferable skills' toward emphasising 'core values'. Zero growth budgets and excessive adherence to 'payment by results' that are divorced from individuals' realities have cost disabled people big time!

Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Anonymous said...

Did the Greens when they were in charge of Brighton set illegal budgets?

Martin Francis said...

No. If you read the posting I am critical of the =dented shield' approach by Greens as well as Labour Councils. However the Conservative and Labour councillors at Brighton combined to limit the minority Green Council's budget.

I think we need to look forward to co-operation now in defence of the role of local government.


Anonymous said...

So to be clear Martin - you disagree with your party and support setting illegal budgets to protect against austerity?

Martin Francis said...

Yes if we can get a commitment from a range of councils across the country, supported by a broad popular alliance of campaigns, activists and trade unions, to operate such a policy.

Anonymous said...

'Dented shield' is a crap analogy - a better one would be if Labour started describing themselves as asbestos shield as they're a health and safety risk and their decline in Scotland has been terminal.

The problem Labour have is that they can't be trusted with the finances no matter how much money they've got. They'd still squander it like the labour administration has in Brent like with the Willesden Green Library site to developers, the 700K for Marble, the Hologram, buying iphones / ipads with a whole range of apps.

There are many examples of waste that stem from short-term thinking when there are long term solutions. e.g. the staffing where the other year they spent £15m on temporary staff & £5m on interims & consultant in the last financial year (01/04/13 to 31/03/14)

Then there's the £142.3mil outsourcing contract to Veolia - a company that makes vast profits yet requires the public to deputise for them via the 'cleaner brent app'. At least nobody has sold off TFL yet - as the signs which say 'we don't make any profits, everything gets reinvested' highlight the benefits of keeping public services public. What does the Labour party think about public services nowadays? Who knows.


Scott Bartle.

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

To put the matter of 'Greens, Brighton & Hove Council, and illegal budgets another way', many Green Party members opposed the corporate stance of B&H Green councillors, yet Green Party policy is toward autonomy of local parties as paramount.

Maybe Greens need to move toward prioritising core standards of provision for vulnerable people over 'localism'?

Yet we should also consider the very partisan response of GMB in B&H toward backing Labour even when Labour in B&H chose to oppose a B&H Green Party budget based on increasing Council Tax for those who could afford it, after B&H Green Party councillors introduced gender equality in wages that impacted more on Unison members.

Dude Swheatie of Kwug