Like many other cities around the country, Leicester is suffering a social crisis as a direct result of Tory funding cuts. This crisis was made plain for all to see on last weekend’s Sunday Politics East Midlands broadcast (BBC, January 21) which featured a study published by academics at De Montfort University, shown alongside interviews with various local community workers.
Barbara Grant-Bennett, in discussing the dark future facing the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association, explained:
“From the end of January, there will be no further funding because of the cuts. And we are talking about killing a community, because they will just then regress and be lonely, especially the elderly.”
Khudeja Amer-Sharif, the Co-ordinator of Leicester’s Shama Women’s Centre noted:
“Back in the eighties, we were able to offer textiles training to women every day, Monday to Friday. But over the years the funding has been cut. As a result of that we have had to reduce our classes; the demand is there, but the ladies are unable to pay for them, and we are not funded for it anymore. These ladies want to be skilled and gain work, and they are desperate for that, but we are not able to meet the demand because we don’t have the funding.”
Further highlighting the devastating effects of Tory austerity, local health campaigner Pamela Campbell-Morris added her own heartfelt contribution to the broadcast:
“People will become isolated, they will become lonely, they will not reconnect. For years people have talked about the ‘hard to reach’; what I’ve always said is ‘easy to ignore’, because if the services are there and they cannot access it, or do not know how to navigate their way around it — some of the time because of peoples’ lack of understanding to deal with different cultures — then people are going to not bother to engage.”
But unlike these few brave individuals, most community groups facing funding cuts are placed in a terrible position of feeling that they can’t speak out against ongoing cuts because they fear retribution from the politicians holding their purse strings. This was made clear by Professor Jonathan Davies who, during the BBC broadcast, pointed out:
“People very often say to us that they don’t feel able to speak truth to power any longer because they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, and that of course is a very important and traditional role of the community and voluntary sector in all cities.”
This seems to apply as much to Labour councillors as it does to community groups, as demonstrated by the Highfields Community Association’s investigation which found a “climate of fear” existed amongst many Labour councillors who were too scared to challenge the authoritarian leadership shown by City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby.
Thankfully Sir Peter’s dark shadow is finally beginning to show signs of lifting as the more democratically minded members of the Labour Party (which includes a handful of local councillors) are presently campaigning to ensure that the forthcoming internal selection of their Mayoral candidate offers up a genuine democratic choice to Leicester’s Labour membership. This would be a welcome change from Soulsby’s undemocratic coronation.
Leicester can of course do much better than the spineless “austerity realism” that exemplifies Sir Peter Soulsby’s leadership of Leicester City Council – a long period of misleadership which has seen the Labour City Council deliver Tory austerity “diligently, though reluctantly, for lack of a perceived alternative.” (p.23) This is despite the fact that realistic anti-austerity alternatives do exist in plain sight!
“With services cut beyond the bone” already, the need for a political alternative was forcefully made within the university report which stated:
“If things continue as they are, little will remain of the post-war multi-service municipality, apart from adult and children’s social services. But without a significant change of direction, even these services seem likely to remain trapped in a regime of permanent budgetary crisis.” (p.24)
As we already know, the City Mayor’s preferred ‘solution’ to the ongoing crisis facing Leicester and its residents is not to fight back against Tory cuts, but instead to invest in the “public realm because the city centre is our shop window” (as Sir Peter put it). This is a solution that is destined to failure. Very, very few people feel the benefits of Soulsby’s programme, and even fewer believe the nonsensical idea that “making Leicester attractive for employers and investors would, on its own, overcome decades of deprivation and disinvestment, only intensified by austerity.” In fact, the recent report featured on the BBC notes that just the opposite is likely to occur, as:
“Research in this field shows that the more cities compete to make ends meet, the more unequal and divided they tend to become.” (p.25)
Now more than ever is the time for change, to renew the fight for democracy, and to support the type of genuine socialist policies that will benefit the tens of thousands of ordinary people who are suffering right now.