In his speech setting out plans for welfare reform, David Cameron says he is passionate about creating a new culture of responsibility in his Big Society. Doncaster residents disagree.
The question is, can Kensington and Chelsea be seen as an equal partner with Doncaster in Cameron’s view of the Big Society? I ask because I am actively involved in the Save Our Libraries campaign in Doncaster. Doncaster Council are currently proposing to close fourteen out of twenty six libraries with the loss of forty to fifty jobs.
This follows on from the decision to axe the Wardens Service for elderly and disabled residents. We now learn that there is a plan to close twelve primary schools in the town.
These plans, if implemented, will have a massive, negative impact on the communities, with all age groups affected. Doncaster still suffers from the deprivation created by Thatcher’s policies that destroyed the coal and other industries in this area. This legacy has created a need for investment in Doncaster, rather than one of the largest cuts to government grants in the country of 8.9 percent.
Cameron’s definition of the Big Society appears to be radically different from the people on the streets of Doncaster, who define it as a euphemism for cuts. Cameron’s vision of a Big Society is heavily dependent upon the voluntary sector. However, funding to the voluntary sector has been drastically cut with even the outgoing chair of the Community Service Volunteers criticising the viability of the policy. She is part of a growing chorus of dissident voices who now recognise Cameron’s ‘Brave New World’ to be nothing more than a dystopian catastrophe. It’s widely recognised that the present policies, if implemented, will create a massive increase in unemployment. The change in benefits proposed and the sanctions that could be placed on the unemployed will lead to ‘compulsory volunteers’.
We are now seeing a number of the ConDem policies being reversed due to public protest and pressure. Only today it was announced that the plans to sell off public forests has been abandoned along with the plans to reduce housing benefit to the long term unemployed by 10 percent.
It is clear that the ConDem government with all its millionaire ministers is out of touch with ordinary people. But no longer will ordinary people be prepared to sit back and accept whatever is thrown at them. All over the country campaign groups, such as the Save Our Libraries group in Doncaster, are emerging with many creating national networks to oppose the cuts that will affect their communities. For the first time in decades people are coming together with a common purpose.
While the Environment Minister Caroline Spelman said last week in reference to the backtracking of the sale of public forests, "we got this one wrong," the people are now telling the ConDem government: you got it all wrong.
The Doncaster Save our Libraries campaign received some great news last week: the proposed closure of 14 libraries has been deferred for 12 months. Doncaster Council has at last woke up to the fact that they can't ignore the people of Doncaster. In communities all over Doncaster people have fought to save their local library. This is a great victory for people power but the fight against the cuts goes on.
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