03 March 2007

It’s the war stupid..... by Virginia

It’s exactly 20 years this September since I started out in my first paid role, working with people with learning disabilities in South London. Coincidentally, the first ten years of my career were spent under a Tory Government and the last ten under New Labour. When I started out, money was tight and got tighter and Margaret Thatcher was pathological in her desire to destroy public services. We lived through spending cut after spending cut, saw our (never very high salaries) kept low and watched helplessly as services were provided for fewer and fewer people and long term preventative work became a thing of the past. 10 years ago saw a new dawn, the Labour government we’d waited 18 years for. The Labour government who would restore all ills, put the money back into development and prevention, restore the public’s faith in us, make us all be proud again.

I have to say that for a little while, that promise seemed good. In the rosy early days of new Labour, I went to a meeting in Camden where local and central government officials met in a spirit of good will, and genuine cooperation that I’d never seen before. There were a plethora of public policy initiatives, some of which were actually aimed at long term solutions. We had it good for a while, the government seemed to be putting the money back in, development seemed to be in, short termism out. For a brief period, there was money to spend, and good services came on the back of that.

But not any more. This week we saw Gordon Brown announcing below inflation pay increases for health staff and NHS trusts struggling to balance their budgets. And recently we heard of the report from the social care commission that local authorities are tightening their eligibility criteria once again. Unless you are in the most need (your family can’t cope, your needs are so extreme that you cannot get by without support), forget getting a service from a local authority, most of them won’t be paying. Dear Lord, I feel like I’m in a time warp, back in the darkest days of Maggie and the death of society.

So what’s happened in the past 10 years to change the government of the future – the government of resourcing public services, encouraging prevention and development, into the cost cutting, penny pinching, last resort service provision of the past? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s the War Stupid”. I was on maternity leave in 2003 when the war broke out. When I came back to work we were having the first round of discussions about insufficient resources from central government, and council tax freezes meaning cost reductions on services. Each subsequent year, as the mess over there has got worse, so the funding here has reduced, leading us to the situation we are in today. Every time Tony Blair asks Gordon Brown for more money for the carnage in Iraq, he gets it, no questions asked (current estimate - £7billion ) Meanwhile NHS trusts are cutting staff to balance their books, local authorities are struggling to deliver vital services, and the workforce looks set for frozen pay deals for the next few years.

So let me end with a question.

How would you like to have spent that £7 billion?

On a war without end that has destroyed a society, created near civil war, cost the lives of between 55,000-63,000 Iraqis over 3,000 US soldiers over 100 UK soldiers and injured many more.


On making sure every hospital ward is fully staffed; vulnerable people get the support they need to survive; family carers are valued and helped to continue looking after their relatives and public sector workers are honoured for their essential work for society with decent pay rises every year.

If only we really had a choice.


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