Today, unions are working together across South-East London to organise a pensions ‘battle bus’ around Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. On Wednesday, I spoke alongside UNITE, UNISON and GMB speakers in Merton, and the same on Thursday night at a ‘NO Cuts Cabaret’ in the Rivoli ballroom to protest against cuts to young people’s services in Lewisham.
In Lewisham, the Council made £7m of cuts to the Children and Young People’s budgets in 2011/12 – with 4.8M more to come over next two years.
One of the biggest cut to come in the next round of CYP cuts will be the £200,000 ‘saving’ in special educational needs budget. Yet, disgracefully, the Council budget papers dress up the cut as an improvement ! They claim that “the reorganisation should positively impact on the experience of parents and children”. My appeal to Labour councillors to prove that they really did have a different agenda to this Government - and demand their officers stop writing this nonsense - seemed to go down well with the audience.
As unions have warned from the start, the cuts don’t work – they just make things worse. Two of Lewisham’s 2011/12 savings have not met their targets: they put up nursery fees but haven’t got more income because there’s then been a reduced uptake of places! They also put up school meal prices – again there’s been a reduced uptake of school meals – and now a budget shortfall.
Of course, this is just a small part of a much wider picture. Cuts mean fewer people in work, fewer paying taxes, fewer spending in shops, more spent on benefits – a vicious spiral downwards we can see in Greece and elsewhere.
The money is there to spend on our services. If the £120 billion of uncollected and avoided tax identified by the PCS was collected, there would be no need for Osborne’s cuts at all. Of course, the profiteers will always try to avoid those taxes – until and unless ordinary people, communities, trade unions, control the banks and economy so that they can put people before profit.