Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sticking Two Fingers Up to David Cameron's Big Society....

I left University in 1994, not sure of what I wanted to do with my life, what career I might have, what use I might be in society. I decided to spend six months doing voluntary work full-time for a charity. I wanted to be useful, give something, but also learn something about myself.

It wasn't the first time I'd done voluntary work. I spent one day a week for a year while I was at University, helping in the classroom of a special school. I'd done numerous activities to raise money for charities. When I was a teenager, I spent Sunday afternoons visiting an old people's home for a while. I helped serve dinners, made beds, emptied bed pans, chatted with the oldies. Maybe a strange thing to do as a teenager.

But then, I come from a family who brought me up to think of others, to help people who needed help. My grandparents did supported lodgings for all kinds of people, I'm not sure exactly who they were, or where they were from, but mostly there was a string of men they supported, drinkers, addicts mostly I think. It was just normal for me growing up, something I never questioned.

I'm not unusual.

Most people I know give to charity, or help out a neighbour, or volunteer.

Plus, I've worked for three of the biggest children's charities in the UK, for most of my working life. I get paid for my work. So, it's not done for free.

But in the work that I do, I see families who care for each other, who physically care for their relatives or friends and neighbours, who take in the children of friends and bring them up, who make meals for people who can't cook for themselves, who do cleaning, washing, shopping, give lifts to people. Some of them work full-time and dedicate themselves to others in the evenings or weekends. Other people claim a meagre carers allowance. I've seen people care for relatives through terminal illness, care for people in their families with chronic disabilities. I probably don't need to keep giving examples...

These are just ordinary people, who are relentless, selfless, who have little money but loads of love, kindness, or just do it because they have no choice... who else is going to do it. Sometimes they get a little bit of help from the State... a bit of money, a small grant, a ride to a day centre, a bit of respite care, someone who listens, a group they can go to and get a break, or training, or a laugh, sharing experiences. Sometimes.

So, when David Cameron talks about a 'Big Society' it makes me really fucking angry.

It makes me wonder where he comes from and what kind of upbringing he had and what on earth he thinks people are doing in this country. I listen to him talk about a 'Big Society' and all I can hear is a man of privilege who has no clue of the struggles that people go through, or the way communities already rally round, or the amount of voluntary caring and giving people already give, of the amount of charities there are out there working in communities already doing so much to improve peoples lives.

I want to ask him where he thinks the money is going to come from for all this extra work in the community, because nothing is ever, truly for free. Good volunteers need training and support, they need resources, buildings or spaces to work from, they need protection. If groups are going to run libraries and post offices, then they need books, they need lighting, heating, chairs, a building, they need organising. They need money.

Because, most charities I know get money from government funding, local councils, as well as other funding sources, and they get it from the public. Only the government are cutting funding left, right and centre. They are cutting the budgets of local councils, and people are losing jobs, have higher bills, higher VAT, and they just don't have spare cash for giving to charities.

The charity I work for is launching an emergency appeal for funds.

The local council where I live is cutting funding to many of the places that are the hub of community work, voluntary work, helping, caring, supporting, forcing these to close if funding doesn't come from somewhere else by the end of March. That's six weeks time.

There are people I know who rely on support, childcare, groups, services, community resources so that they can keep going.

I know it sounds like I'm hamming it up a bit. But seriously, not everyone has it easy. Having a library that has a homework club can be like a lifeline for some parents and children. Or being able to go to a parent and baby group when you're 17 and know nothing about being a parent can give support and skills that mean a child is looked after properly, safely. Someone who has three kids and is a single parent feeling suicidal because it's so cold that they can't heat the house because they have no money, or they're isolated from their family, or they're ill... this person might just get by because they have a worker (a trained, paid, skilled worker) who visits them every week and gives them just enough support to keep them going...

I want to ask David Cameron...

So, who is going to be part of this Big Society? Who are the people who are going to fund it? Run it? Have the 'passion' for it? The spare time for it?

And why the bugger are you cutting the funding and the resources that are already out there, if a Big Society is needed this much?


I'm actually ashamed at the moment, of our Government, my local council, and of the organisations who aren't standing up against what seems to be happening in our country at the moment.


Claire Massey said...

Brilliant post, Annie. It made me fill up and it made me even angrier than I already was (and I was already very very very very very angry!).

sonia said...

Well said Annie. Volunteers still need organising and support. I don't think he realises the true cost of making many of these cuts.