Saturday, 1 May 2010

A social worker's perspective on the election

So, I know some people are sick of the election, but we vote on Thursday. The opinion polls are showing David Cameron and the Conservative Party in the lead, and I feel the need to be frank about the whole thing.

I work as a social worker. My friends and aquaintances are mainly social workers, teachers, solicitors, care workers, youth workers, people that work with people every day, people that know through their clients about issues like housing, unemployment, poverty, the health service, prison service, etc. They are also people who mainly come from ordinary backgrounds, not the affluent, but people whose parents were good working people struggling through 14 years of Conservative rule in the late 70s and 80s, people affected by redundancy, closures of industries, etc. I want to cut through the crap and challenge a few things I have heard in the election run up...

1. Unemployment - yes there is a huge % of people unemployed right now. 2.5 million, I heard. Way more than there was before, so it doesn't look good for the Labour government. But recession leads to unemployment, and the recessions is not the government's fault, it's a GLOBAL problem. It would have happened with any party, and actually Labour have managed to avoid a DEPRESSION, which we want to be thankful for.

2. 'Coming down harder on the unemployed' - that's what David Cameron has said. Well, I've worked for past eight years with people who are on the dole, and I'm telling you, the Labour Government HAVE come down hard on the unemployed, you couldn't get any harder without forcing people onto the streets. There is already a very strict back to work programme. The money people get on the dole is SHIT, try living on £50 a week to pay all your bills, food, travel etc, it is not easy when energy prices are high (again, a GLOBAL problem, not Labour's fault) and if you're poor the fuel companies insist on fitting meters which leak money, and cut off your gas/electric if you run out... (a result of privatisation that occurred in the 80's by a Tory government). If you do not apply for jobs actively every week and prove this your money is stopped, if you get a job you have to take it, if you don't get interviews the job centre will send you on interviews, and if you miss appointments or mess up in anyway your money is stopped. If you have been on the dole for a certain amount of time you have to go on a course otherwise your money stops, and the course is about applying for hundreds of jobs so you probably can get one. You cannot come down any harder on the unemployed when there are NO jobs.

3. Also, worth noting, I remember the 80's when the Tories were in power and there were millions of people out of work. They are not going to pull anything out of the bag, other than schemes that HIDE the statistics. Their proposal is to introduce National Service (it's called something else but that's what it is).

4. During a Labour Government I have seen the following things come in... repeal of homophobic 'Section 28', equality to the age of consent, Civil partnerships for gay and lesbians. Major changes in law and policy and attitude towards people who deserve equality. This has made a MASSIVE difference to people's lives. It is vital. And would NEVER have happened with a Tory Government.

5. Surestart, one of the major changes that Labour has made to this country. You may not know, but it started as a pilot in certain areas of the country, more deprived areas, and has now rolled out to every single area of the country. Surestart is BRILLIANT. It offers services to families of children under 5, one of the most vulnerable groups. They provide parenting support, support to encourage development of children - including health (access to midwifes, speech therapists, dentists), education (classes for parents and children), family support for families who are struggling, support for families where children are at risk, play opportunities, I could write a very long list. They are accessible, educative, and tackle some of the major social problems, and they are LOCAL, in people's communities. I have seen that support people who are struggling to look after their children, so they learn the skills to meet their children's needs. I have seen them support families in poverty, with poor health, mental health, who are new to this country, single parents. There is not another service like it, it is WONDERFUL... I can't stress how good it is. But the Conservatives don't value it, and it could be one of the cuts they are talking about.

6. If you want to talk about WAR, then yes, very bad decisions, very bad wars. But, I don't believe it would have been any different under a Conservative government. They were pro-war at the time too. It's all very well to criticise with hindsight. And the Tories took us to the FALKLANDS one of the most senseless, dirty wars. I remember as a kid listening to a friend of my parents tell them (in tears) about the things he had seen over there. And for what? Both parties have taken us into wars that are wrong.

7. The Tories: Cutting Inheritance Tax for people inheriting OVER £300,000. What is this about... Protecting the rich. It's senseless. It puts money in the pockets of people who don't need it, and money away from people who do.

8. Tax Credits. Brilliant. I know many people who rely on tax credits so they can work and support their families. It puts money back in the pocket of people who need it. But, not under a Tory or Liberal government. It means that single parents who are on benefits can have more than £50 a week to support their family. It means that single parents who want to go back to work are better off than claiming benefits. It means that people who have MORE money pay more taxes, and people who are struggling get a helping hand.

9. Let's be clear the Tories are not about the poor, they never have been, they never will be. Poverty is a real issue in this country anyway, I dread to think how it might get worse... and that only puts pressure on health services, education, social services, the police... think about it, it's not rocket scientist. These people are not 'BAD' people, they need support.

10. I worry about what's going to happen to minimum wage. If you don't know what it is, google it, it's not a lot of money. We need to protect it.

11. Tories WILL cut public services. Yes, they might stick to their promise of not cutting in the NHS, police, education. But there are other public services around. I fear for my job. I do a very proactive job with families where there is a risk of harm or has been harm to the children. It is SO positive at breaking cycles, empowering families, giving them skills and support. But, the Tories do not value my work as ESSENTIAL. They will cut public services in other ways, they will not cut waiting lists, they will not support people with long term health problems, they will take a HARD LINE on crime without addressing the reasons that many people commit crime (poverty, social deprivation, abuse in childhood). Yes there are nasty people in our society, but many are just desperate and need support.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea...

It scares me that David Cameron's party is very Thatcherite. She was a strong leader, if you want to call her that, but strong leaders are not necessarily good for the country. A lot of the problems we are still dealing with now as a country are a result of Thatcher decisions. If you can't remember the Thatcher years, then let me tell you...

closing mines, closing industries, riots, national strikes, poll tax, queues out of the job centre door (over 3 million unemployed), redundancies, mass privatisation of national companies (BP, BA, BT, British GAS, Rover, British Steel, National Grid, I could go on...), the Falklands, free markets, selling public housing, reduction of public spending on education and social services,moral absolutism, decline in Britich industries due to privatisation (shipbuilding for example), increase in share-dealing... deregulation of finance including removing certain restrictions on the London Stock Market...!, allowing the US to bomb Libya form our airbases, reduce power of the trade unions...

I could go on. (and have done)

I'm not sure what Liberal Democrats could offer, many people want change, which is fair enough, but Liberal vote is a Tory vote in some areas, and I just hope people see beyond the billboards, read up on what the parties are offering and see beyond the glossy brochures and promises, find out about who is leading in their area, and VOTE TACTICALLY, don't think that Liberal Democrats are going to sweep this election, they're not. And actually get out and use their vote, spoiling your ballot paper is not an act of protest is idiocy and a wasted vote, and apathy is not helpful.

Enough, normal service will resume soon...


Bob Jacobs said...

You sound like Gordon Brown.

That's not a compliment.

annie clarkson said...

Ha, well, I take it as a kind of compliment, I guess I sound like a person who inclines to the left politically and is socially-conscious, which is are things me and GB share... and my values are certainly not in line with the Tories, hence the post. GB certainly has his flaws, but I think he's a little more honest than many politicians, I think he gives a shit about people, not just his political career, and the PM job is no picnic for any leader.

green ink said...

Thank you for writing this Annie. xx

Andrew Blackman said...

Very interesting post. I can't fault the logic - have used it myself the past few elections. Personally, though, I'm tired of voting tactically and getting a party that's just less bad than another one. For the first time in my life I'm going to vote for a party whose programme I really believe in, the Greens. Sure, they're not going to win this time, but every vote still counts, giving them more credibility for the next time. The Labour Party was new and small once - if people had voted tactically back then, we'd still be choosing between Whigs and Tories.

Anyway your post made a lot of sense, and I certainly share your hope that the Tories don't get another chance to continue the Thatcherite project of screwing up this country through the upward transfer of wealth. I wish I believed that Labour offered a credible alternative vision, but I'm afraid I just don't see it.