It’s a big day for you and no mistake. The speech will have been written and rehearsed, a few last minute changes notwithstanding. Just please don’t do the sneery thing. It makes you look like a cosseted, public schoolboy… try an empathetic frown instead.
Like many I didn’t sleep well last night, wondering what the Comprehensive Spending Review will bring. You see, I live in an area where all around me, people are bracing themselves for the worst and I worry what today holds in store for them.
For the feckless lone parent I saw yesterday in the local Co-op. Not a day over 20, the anguish writ large on her face, as she put a tenner on her power account. Then eked out the exact change for a bunch of bananas for her 3 year old. Not so feckless huh?
Or my 85 year old neighbour across the road. On his own with family far away. I keep an eye on him, take him soup now and again but he doesn’t like a fuss and rarely complains. He’s as deaf as a post and should be getting homecare…. And I’m just not sure he’d cope without his meals on wheels.
How about the family next to him? He’s been on short term working for well over a year now and it’s aged him 10 years. He used to have a company car – quite a coup, having worked for the same firm most of his life and worked his way up to a management position. It’s a works van now and he’s back to being on call to help make ends meet.
Or the young couple next door. I’ve heard a lot of shouting in the last wee while, not something I thought I’d ever hear from them. And they are both out working shifts a lot more than they used to.
I think too about some of my friends. They’ve always just about scraped by and haven’t a clue what’s about to hit them. All of them families in the “squeezed middle” – that’s the real middle, George, families on combined incomes of about £35,000, not the imagined one of politicians in the Westminster village. God knows how they will cope, especially the ones in public sector jobs vulnerable to the cuts whose time appears to have come.
But I worry most about the families I’ve worked with in the last couple of years and got to know well. All of them raising a disabled child in spite of the welfare state. Trying to maintain their dignity and a semblance of normality in the face of adversity. What they go through on a daily basis, most of us wouldn’t put up with in a lifetime. Want a sample? How about this:
“Sorry for the inconvenience… Now I don’t know about you, inconvenience to me is not getting a sandwich filling you wanted, running out of milk when the shops are still open, missing a bus and having to get a later one. Not having any incontinence supplies for someone who is permanently incontinent is a catastrophe.” (I know you’re a tad busy today but I really would recommend you read the whole post called Incontinence Supply Blues)
“I have suicidal thoughts over the amount of debt we have sunk into. I can’t see our situation ever improving. Friends think I’m strange for not meeting in cafes. A cup of tea is the equivalent of two hours’ Carers Allowance”
“You try to do what’s right by your child, give them the food instead of yourself. She’s had one chest infection after another because we have no central heating and it costs too much to put on the oil heater”
“My marriage has failed partly due to financial pressures and worries, as well as the impact of having a disabled child… so yes, financial worries have had a detrimental effect”
(taken from Contact a Family’s Counting the Costs 2010 report)
I appreciate, George, that there are an awful lot of families out there you need to think about today. But if you can, spare a thought for these ones, and the many thousands like them up and down the UK. The ones who absolutely depend on services, support and the welfare state to get by.
Your boss suggested those with the broadest shoulders should bear their share of the load. I agree. Mine aren’t actually all that broad but I’m willing to take on an extra bit of the load if it enables you to protect families like these. And there are others who could afford to go without: some of them don’t even pay their share of tax in the UK, can you imagine?! So I’m hoping you’ll consider adjusting – yes, even at this late stage – your guiding mantra. Ditch waste and welfare and replace it with fairness and equity. For I’d like to think you’d agree, George, that it’s fair and equitable to ensure that those who can bear the worst of the cuts, do.