A state of emergency

Jamie Insole looks at the effects of welfare reform in Wales ahead of George Osborne’s Emergency Budget.

On July 8th, the UK Government will announce an emergency budget.

Here in Wales, we are already in a state of emergency. Last year 10,000 residents of Cardiff were forced to use food banks. One in four parents in Wales has skipped a meal and gone without food to feed their families.

Public sector reorganisation has led to the loss of 30,000 jobs since 2010. The 2014 Coal Face report indicates that the distribution of job losses has fallen unevenly to affect communities confronting the greatest historical challenge.

As an indication as to how this ‘challenge’ is being met, whereas it is estimated that 50,000 private sector jobs have been created, since 2012, at least 74% of these pay below living wage, many falling into the zero hour dustbin. ‘Under employment’ is significantly higher than the national average.

For many, it would seem as if a sweat shop has been constructed upon the wreckage of the financial crisis. Indeed, ‘austerity’ is frequently touted as one of the primary drivers in outsourcing and creeping privatisation; all of which depresses wages, dissolves collective bargaining and undermines the quality of provision.

Starved of central funding, many local authorities now feel forced to consider outsourcing as the only possible option. One council leader confided that the logic towards becoming a “commissioning council” is “largely irresistible”. Acknowledging that officers were not equipped with the skills and experience necessary to accurately assess the price of assets and services – as with the banking sector, many private contracts are adjudged as “too big to fail.”

Meanwhile, Welfare Reform has taken an estimated 4% out of the local economy, with at least a further projected £900 million as a consequence of current and future revisions.

Amidst much ringing of hands, the Assembly’s own Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee, recently reported that about 23% of people experience poverty in Wales, (compared with 17% of the UK’). The report suggests that whilst the number living below the poverty-line has fallen in areas, such as north-east England, in Wales the figure has remained static. The number of people turning to food banks doubled between April 2013 and March 2014.

So many statistics – numbers might numb us to the reality of genuine, categorical suffering. Similarly, categorisation allows us to segment our world into sanitised, easily navigable, plains.

However, under these conditions maintaining any sense of polite demarkation has become increasingly difficult. When I walk home in the late evening, I now see young women selling sex. This is new in my town. I stopped to talk last Monday. I learned that neither woman (or should I say girl – they were both painfully young) had chosen this – one had been ‘sanctioned’ whilst the other was struggling to bring up her son. In Merthyr, a young man sits on a bus stop hoping that somebody will speak to him. As of 2011, he worked in a Remploy factory. A woman in Ely plans how to survive on less than £9 per week. Her cheek is bruised. She too has been sanctioned and is also snared by the bedroom tax.

This is Wales – as prone and vulnerable as a neck. Come and see!

Whilst central funding dwindles, so the third sector recedes. As the sinews and tendons of our communities tear, many of our estates come to resemble busted workplaces. An organiser by trade, I have visited those concerns where the union had been chased out. Instead, one found the hegemony of HR. In our communities, that role is occupied by UKIP. They are the ultimate beneficiaries of anger without hope.

Please understand. I do not blame Welsh Labour or indeed Welsh Government for Westminster’s pogrom. Nor do I hold them as being ultimately responsible for the social train wreck that must follow Wednesday’s announcements.

However, if we are to be honest; how many times have we had to suffer the same, shop-worn apology? “We can ill afford to cover the cost of Westminster’s Welfare reform”? “We can but only administer austerity in a more humane fashion”?

As predicted, the ‘dented-shield’ is now close to shattering. Welsh labours single strategy was to work for a Miliband victory. Having been denied, their 2016 plan appears to pivot solely around forcing Plaid into coalition as regional seats are conceded to UKIP and the Welsh Conservatives. It is a plan for maintaining power but cannot amount to a strategy for Wales.

To say that we need hope might strike the reader as more than a little trite. Similarly, my own contention; that Welsh Labour must climb off its knees and volubly fight will no doubt be rejected as the prerogative of the harlot.

However, looking north of the border, one cannot help but acknowledge the role played by a confident, social movement in transforming the covenant between both electorate and the elected.

If there is hope for Wales, then it must surely lie with it’s single unfixed point. The ability of communities and constituencies to raise voices and self-organise!

Jamie Insole is a campaigner who alongside the Cardiff Peoples Assembly will join with community groups, NGO’s and trade union activists to oppose George Osborne's ‘Emergency Budget’ on Wednesday July 8th.

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