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Dr Stephanie Petrie is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice
“Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of following the TUC Austerity Bus as it toured localities in Liverpool.
As an academic I have been alerted to the adverse impact of austerity policies on key issues and populations through current controversies and debates. The uses and abuses of statistical data are often central to arguments about what are the ‘real’ impacts of policy programmes. However, hearing the stories and strategies of those living with the consequences of austerity policies certainly put flesh on the statistical skeleton for me.
A dominant theme throughout my independent discussions with residents, volunteers and paid workers in three urban localities was, of course, the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Women I spoke with in West Everton were clear that the creation of under-occupancy in social housing was a deliberate strategy that would later be used to justify selling prime inner-city land to the private sector. They spoke with passion about how residents during the last 20 years had worked hard to transform their locality into the stable and supportive community it had become, and how the Bedroom Tax was now destroying this.
“What politicians don’t understand about Liverpool is intergenerational support between the community. Move a grandmother out and who will pick up the kids? Families support one another. Strip them of their pride, take everybody’s dignity and pride from them –it’s a slow tortured death – like Schindler’s list.”
Another key issue was food poverty.
The Chair of Knowsley Foodbank told me that since the 1 April there had been an astonishing level of increase – 40% more people compared to the same period in 2012. This meant feeding 4,300 this year compared to 3000 last year – 40 tons of food compared to 24 tons.
I asked about fraud, as press and politicians sometimes suggested that people used foodbanks so they could spend their income on alcohol and cigarettes. He told me the Trussell Trust administers foodbanks through a rigorous computerised system of logging access (a maximum of three times a year for three days although some areas have now had to increase this because of need) and said:
I was told of many instances where long gaps in income had been caused by mistakes and failures in other state welfare systems and that this was becoming increasingly common. A Children’s Centre manager in Norris Green told me:
“Things are very bad – we keep going because our staff are wonderful – they will stay as long as it takes – evenings or weekends. I can’t believe some of the things that happen [elsewhere]. For example a family with a young child came to us on the 18th December after their money had been stopped for three weeks by the Job Centre because they were late for an interview. I thought the person who did that had no moral sense at all.”
Of course the overriding anxiety was employment or rather the lack of it especially for young people.
Back to “day labourers on the docks”
There were many stories from parents about the exploitative nature of work programmes for young people. The associated employment often involved long hours, (e.g. 6 a.m. to 11p.m.; 9.00a.m. till 4.a.m) unsafe conditions, paying for their own work-related expenses and no pay for the first two weeks because they were ‘training’.
Some were told they were regarded as self-employed and so had to do their own tax return and many had zero contract hours. As one mother said they were, “hanging about and then told they are not wanted – going back to day labourers on the docks”.
So my over-whelming impression, wherever I went and whoever I spoke with, was that no one believed that any mainstream political party or leader know what is happening as a result of these policies or, most significantly, even care – one more powerful indictment of the democratic process in Britain in the new millennium.”
Charities, embarrassing investments and the law
Dr Petrie may find it informative to attend her local Citizens Advice Bureau- usually best to go in person and ask to speak to the Session Supervisor to explain your purpose.
Policy makers are aware of the effects of welfare “reform”. The CAB for example keep statistics of their effect, and routinely present this information to civil servants through the Bureau’s Social Policy work.
The School may also be interested in the implications of the Lobbying Bill currently going through Parliament.
Austerity and cuts (for “the 99%”) widen existing inequalities that have undermined our economy and society. This is what happens when we entrust the people who created the problem to fix it.
â€œSo my over-whelming impression, wherever I went and whoever I spoke with, was that no one believed that any mainstream political party or leader know what is happening as a result of these policies or, most significantly, even careâ€¦â€
Excellent remarks that portray nicely austerity and its virtuesâ€¦letâ€™s look around us the countries and continents where austerity measures have been dogmatically implemented (Nigeria, Argentine, Greece etc)-some of the richest countries have been gradually ruined. The connection is clear: privatisation and cuts bring “growth” whilst the masses are humiliated for a few pennies in the context of the wider governmental expenditures.
As a proud resident of Liverpool for the past (nearly) 10 years, I have spoken with friends and colleagues about the impact of the austerity measures of the 80â€™s in Liverpool, Merseyside â€“ it is hard to believe that the circle repeats its self in this beautiful city and that those few who gain from this vicious circle do not even know what Liverpool is about.
Al I can hope is that local and global history will help us all to learn from the past
A Liverpool Researcher
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