The people who will be most hit by massive cuts are those with least money and resources, least advantage and least power – poor parents, older people, women workers, disabled people, mental health service users, carers, poor people on benefits, black and minority ethnic communities, social housing tenants and those studying. The people and institutions most to blame for the financial mess we are in; banks, private sector and business leaders are largely left untouched. Instead they are likely to benefit ultimately from the regressive financial redistribution resulting from public service cuts.
It’s all a stark reminder of the failure of the Blair and Brown governments. They left us this inheritance by perpetuating new right economic policies and freeing the market. With a landslide election victory in 1997, Blair did nothing to challenge the powers that be. Meanwhile the Tories now with no political mandate and no majority of any kind, are forcing through the most radical reactionary political agenda for almost a century, foisting on the rest of us the most destructive and anti-social policies in living memory.
But faced with a reform programme that makes Margaret Thatcher’s policies seem tame, we will do well to take some deep breaths and not panic. These cuts and the policies they presage may truly contain the seeds of their own destruction. Admittedly we have a weak and complaisant media. Undoubtedly democratic safeguards have been weakened. Admittedly much has happened to de-politicise and disempower people. Divisions will be encouraged and increased. We are already seeing it happen.
There is no question that the lives of many service users will be made more difficult and miserable. Some will undoubtedly have their lives cut short or die because of the loss of essential support. Social workers and other public service workers can look forward to even more insecurity, loss of jobs and greater difficulty doing their jobs well. Supporting people to deal with the benefits system, for example, can only be expected to be a bigger nightmare than it now is. All can expect greater hardship, difficulties and uncertainty.
But the divisions between and narrow self-interest of the ruling politicians and policymakers also make them weak and vulnerable. Their ideologically driven, poorly thought through policies will be costly, create all kinds of unintended consequences and won’t work. They will generate their own opposition. None of us should act or think as though we believe they have the five years in power that they repeatedly tell us we should judge them by. They talk ‘big society’ and corrupt the meaning of ‘self-help’ and ‘mutuality’. Instead we, through rebuilding community and grassroots action, local campaigns, new alliances, inclusive and original forms of campaigning, will not only develop resistance, but also demonstrate that there truly are alternatives to the bureaucratized consumerist models of state and private sector which recent governments have sought to impose on us.
Each supportive social work relationship with a service user is a demonstration of the enduring value and power of this democratizing, equality based impulse. Each will have a value, influence and power way beyond those directly, personally involved. Couple this with collective action and alliances between our organisations, interest and identity groups and we have the chance to build a new reality, a different politics that will fill the vacuum left by the arid years of bureaucratizing managerialism of the new political right, New Labour and now Coalition politics. This isn’t just a fight back. It is a fight for!