‘There needs to be public rage about this,’ says Ken Loach, referring to the numbers of hungry people he’d seen at a food bank while making his latest film in the north-east of England.
Well Ken, let me tell you there is public rage.
I am furious at the weasel words, the back-tracking and the cruelty of this Tory government. It’s why, after just voting for Labour all my life, I finally joined the party to help campaign for a Labour government last spring and it’s why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn.
Perhaps it’s a similar rage that has increased membership in our constituency from 350 to over a thousand. Perhaps it’s a similar rage that brought 37 people out on a cold rainy Monday evening to a constituency meeting in Wirksworth to work out what we could do.
Where do we start? By focussing on issues we could jointly work and campaign on. Suggestions were invited from individuals and then we split up to discuss in more depth and work out how we might go about it. People spoke eloquently from their own experiences.
Ro spoke about low wages, particularly in the care industry, how that affects the quality of care and the wider impacts on families, council social services and the NHS. With private agencies charging £70 for 7 hours care, how are the carers making a living? The issue involves unions and the county council which has a major role in commissioning – now with the option to increase council tax by 2% - another temporary sticking plaster on a massive problem. A local campaign could be targeted via care homes, lunch clubs, doctors’ surgeries.
Jen is a solicitor and proposed support for legal aid. She said reduction in legal aid has effectively resulted in a pay cut of 20% over two years, local solicitor firms are losing out to big firms. and she is doing more and more pro bono work just to provide the minimum of help to the most vulnerable, such as young people in care. The legal aid issue is often presented in the media as being about lawyers’ pay and unlike doctors, solictors don’t get much ready public sympathy; but what people lose in legal aid impacts on community care decisions, education decisions as well as criminal issues. People’s access to justice has been drastically reduced through cuts in the police and probation services, through introduction of the criminal charge and privatisation of services is impacting on the courts, prisons, probation services and the police.
Uther was the youngest member present and his concern was for the Human Rights Act and how we could increase awareness of the way threats to the Act affect everyone, including rights to a free trial, to privacy.
Mike, a local councillor, raised the new universal credit. He was concerned to counter the half truths emerging in the media that the notion of simplifying diverse welfare payments will make things easier for people, in fact it is malign in its construction and will make things harder. For example the application process must be done entirely online and it will be impossible if you make a mistake to go back and amend. This immediately puts obstacles in the way of the most vulnerable.
The discussion group called for a local campaign, writing to MPs. The issue is likely to be debated by the district council and this will be an opportunity to generate and respond to local media coverage.
Bob raised today’s Autumn Statement from the chancellor, reminding the room that the emphasis on reducing debt is an ideological decision and an attack on every public service. We need to make it clear to people what austerity is really about, it’s an issue that should unite the whole Labour Party.
People need to know that this is a whole package that will affect many areas of their lives. County Council elections in 2017 provide us with an opportunity to involve thousands of people in getting the message out.
Steve reported that housing had come up more often than any other issue during campaigning in recent elections. As well as campaigning on this massive issue, local people can get involved in practical initiatives such as those in Youlgreave with its Community Land Trust and Brassington with its Community Plan.
Reminder we have until 17th December to respond to the Wirksworth Local Plan http://www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/your-council/consultations/current-consultations/statement-of-community-involvement-consultation
This is just a taste of grassroots discussion. There will be plenty more information coming soon on all these issues and ways we can get involved at this, very local level. All over the constituency action is happening. A Women’s Section will be starting soon, as will a Youth Section. Watch this space.
The Politics of Hope was a day-long event recently in Sheffield. In these dark times, just the title was enough to get me buying my ticket. ‘The injustices we face are temporary, they’re transient, they are not like the weather, something you have to put up with and cannot change,’ said speaker Owen Jones. ‘History tells us, it takes people to organise. We need to go outside our comfort zones and get stuck in.‘
Rage is beginning to stir an awful lot of people.