As people across the North prepare to go to the polls tomorrow, Alexandra Day takes stock of a rotten Tory budget that has faced little or no resistance from the big parties, arguing that it’s time to strike back with People Before Profit.
The Tory budget – cuts upon cuts
This Thursday, May 18th, people across the North have an opportunity to strike back against the disastrous record of the Tories and the DUP. Announced at the end of April, at least £800 million is predicted to be made in cuts to services under the Tory bloodbath budget. Education and community services face some of the biggest cuts, with 2.4% and 1.5% respectively, made worse by increasing inflation. People are already suffering through a cost of living crisis: their rates have increased, rents have increased, energy prices have increased, while real term wages and benefits are going down.
Enough is enough. People Before Profit is running a slate of fighters committed to challenging a status quo that simply isn’t working for ordinary people. We have seen that the big parties are unwilling to bring the fightback needed to lessen the hardship people are facing every day. With Stormont in shambles, the Tory budget will bring cuts to community services where they are most needed, cuts to healthcare and education, and substantial job losses. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can strike back in the streets and the ballot against Tory austerity, which the big parties have gone along with.
One of the areas of the Tory budget that will feel a devastating impact is education. The Education Authority has already announced £200 million in proposed education cuts. This will have a knock-on effect in all aspects of education. For one, no funding for school buildings will be granted, meaning that increasingly overcrowded schools will be forced to make do with what they have. The Léargas scheme, which provides Irish language education in English-speaking schools across Derry, will be forced to end if the budget is passed. This will not only create job losses for experienced teachers, but rob children of an opportunity to access the Irish language in their schools.
The early childhood education sector has also been badly hit by these measures. Research has demonstrated the crucial importance of providing early learning services for childhood development. Children from struggling families, with the least means to access this fundamental service, will be shut out in the wake of the budget. The Pathway Fund, which has been vital in providing over £13.5 million in critical investment in services for over 54,000 children aged under 4 years since 2016, faces closure at the end of June if the budget remains unchanged. This will result in the loss of local services in 187 of the most disadvantaged communities across the North, and to at least 10,000 children in these areas.
The funding cut will also mean the job losses for predominantly women workers in the sector. Young people and children should be invested in, not have their education services disgracefully cut.
The Tory budget slashes into funding for public services, across the board. These include mental health services, welfare advice clinics, public legal aid, youth unemployment services, leisure facilities, and more. Even the cost of taking your child for a swim is set to increase. In addition to these cuts, the Tory Secretary of State has proposed further privatisation of services, including water charges and increased prescription fees. Services to the most disadvantaged communities are already operating on a shoestring, and we have seen the disastrous effects of privatisation in recent years. Cuts from the Department of Infrastructure could result in serious issues with drinking water and wastewater treatment, as well as the abandonment of much-needed improvements to roads.
Community groups delivering a range of services, and who support the most vulnerable in our society, were told that their funding could not be guaranteed beyond the end of June. Staff in community centres across the North have been placed on notice, pending the closure of their facilities. These include the South City Resource and Development Centre in South Belfast, which provides services including breakfast clubs for the local school and providing benefit support and debt advice to people who are struggling. Users have attested to the fact these schemes have helped to save their lives, but they may have to close their doors as a result of budget cuts.
The Education Authority has also informed numerous youth clubs that they will receive no funding due to the budget. Several schemes provided by clubs have already been affected, such as the ‘holiday hunger’ payments, a mental health and counselling programme for children in primary schools, and the Extended Schools programme.
Mental health services, which are so essential as people struggle to cope from day to day, are also facing massive closures. These service closures will hit working-class communities the hardest, and drive down services even further.
Job losses caused by the Tory budget will not only increase the hardship already faced by workers, but will kill people where healthcare is concerned. Workers have already been on picket lines for months to defend their jobs and fight for fair wages and conditions. The budget allocates no funds to introduce pay parity or fair staffing for workers. Teachers, nurses, ambulance crews and other essential workers keep our society going. It is a disgrace that this budget will see many of them lose their jobs, just when we need them the most. Healthcare staff of all levels will face even greater pressures as a result of the budget.
The Department of Health will also scale back on nursing student places, with 300 placements predicted to be cut. This is nothing short of criminal. With waiting lists growing longer by the day, more than 545 patients passed away while waiting for bed in the past three years. The NHS has been pushed beyond its limits due to unsafe staffing levels. Cuts to nursing student places will compound the misery of those languishing on health waiting lists, those lying in hospital corridors, and those health workers who are already stretched to their limit. And with more and more community service closures, hundreds of workers will lose their jobs.
It’s time to strike back
The Tories are using the antics of the DUP as an excuse for implementing yet more brutal austerity, but it is communities and services that will suffer. But the Tory budget isn’t the only source of the problem.
Councils should be a layer of defence for communities against the hardship that the Tories are trying to force onto people who are already struggling. Yet the DUP, Alliance, Sinn Féin and the SDLP slashed council services by £3.5 million, put up Council prices, hiked Council rates 8% and blocked efforts to freeze rent costs. The big parties are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in their implementation of austerity against working people.
There is an alternative. Striking workers have been showing the way over the past few months. They have refused to accept Tory austerity and have instead fought for inflation matching pay rises and decent working conditions. People Before Profit representatives have stood on pickets with workers from many sectors, and worked with families who are facing the deprivation this budget will bring. They have already fought alongside communities to save GP surgeries and welfare advice services, to introduce inclusive athletic facilities, and to fight against pollution.
The budget can and must be resisted on the streets and in the council. People Before Profit representatives will be on the streets in solidarity with workers, grass roots organisations and communities, and will give expression to this fightback in council chambers.
Strike back with People Before Profit on May 18th. Take a stand against Tory austerity.