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5 more years of austerity! Frontline workers speak out

Bristol and Beyond

Following on from yesterday’s big anti-cuts demonstration in Bristol we spoke to frontline workers about their fears for the next five years.

The shock is wearing off, and like a shared and extended bad hangover, we’re waking up to five more years of Conservative government. What does this mean for some of the most essential services in our city? From doctors to youth workers, we spoke to those on the frontlines in Bristol to hear their reactions to the General Election results and the impact on their sectors. This is what they had to say:

The Youth Worker

Name: Jack Clements

Organisation: Station Youth Centre

Youth work has always been one of the softest targets for council cuts. Many councils across the country have cut 100% of their non-statutory youth services. Bristol City Council made the decision to outsource all of these services in 2012 in order to protect them for the five years that the contracts run. A number of youth centres closed down as a result of this decision. Now there are two years left on those contracts before the council decides whether it can afford to keep youth services going against a backdrop of more proposed cuts to their budgets from central government.

On the ground youth service provision includes support for some of Bristol’s most vulnerable and marginalized young people. We support young people who are homeless, have mental health difficulties, suffer drug and alcohol dependency and those in or leaving the care system. We also run less front line provision such as youth centres which aim to empower young people to help themselves before specialist support is needed. This parliament really could mark the end to this open-access provision which I see as morally wrong. For anyone who does not agree I would like to point out that even from the coldest economic perspective youth services make sense. The public cost of imprisoning one ‘young offender’ (who we should really be listening to not arresting) costs £140,000 per year. That money could hire ten of me and keep many youth centres running!

The Disability Equality Campaigner

Name: Laura Welti

Organisation: Bristol Disability Equality Forum

My name is Laura Welti and I am the Manager of Bristol Disability Equality Forum.  The Forum is a disabled people-led organisation that seeks to ensure disabled people’s voice and influence in all aspects of life affecting them, and to improve disabled people’s equality and inclusion in society.

One of the big challenges is going to be campaigning for the Human Rights Act to be kept. During the austerity measures – and before that – disabled people have had to rely heavily on this legislation to protect them from inhumane treatment, treatment that strips them of any dignity and the right to live outside of residential care.

Another is the proposed changes in Access To Work support and it being included in Universal Credit (which caps income). Related to this, is the proposed change to Disabled persons’ Tax Credits – i.e. that you can only get it if you are working full-time or in the process of working towards full time employment. Doesn’t sound unreasonable?  Well, it might be if it wasn’t for the fact that many disabled people are not able to work full-time. There are suggestions that those who feel they are in this category will be assessed and the maximum numbers of hours they have to work to get the Tax Credit reduced accordingly. This could be effective but I fear the ‘test’ used to make this decision will be very similar to that used for the Work Capability Assessment – an assessment that is quite simply not fit for purpose. Indeed, it is a system that has led to (a relatively small but significant) number of disabled people’s deaths.

The third key challenge is going to be influencing the proposed cuts to welfare benefits and social care.  The level of cuts to these benefits, and to local authority funding, will seriously affect disabled people’s ability to live independently, to work and/or feed and heat themselves adequately.

The Child Protection Social Worker

Name: Sarah

Organisation: Bristol City Council

I am worried about the next five years. The result is going to make my role as a social worker even more challenging! There is a plan for even more cuts within the social care sector, when there is already a lack of social workers for the amount of work that needs to be done. Further cutbacks are only going to increase social work caseloads and stress levels, meaning that the families that I work with will not receive the level of support needed.

The cuts to social care section are going to mean that services are going to become even more difficult to access. The thresholds for services will increase, meaning that children and their families will not be able to get the interventions that they so desperately need to keep their families together. We could see more family breakdowns, due to further economic stresses on the families that it work with, therefore seeing more families not being able to cope with the increasing pressures of society! However, we must not forget that there might be some positives for our families, including the potential increase in the number of hours of free childcare- which could increase children’s overall well being and development.

The Fire Brigade Union Member(Regional chair)

Name: Kevin Harman

Organisation: South West Region Fire Brigade Union

The Tory party are no friends of public sector workers. They have stated that they want to get public spending under control. In the fire service we have lost jobs, fire appliances and fire stations. This will go on.

The fight for firefighters and the FBU are immense, including, a decent pension for firefighters who cannot get to 60, and stopping the closure of fire stations. We must keep the public safe.

The Community Worker

Name: Delroy Hibbert

Organisation: Full Circle

I have been working in St Pauls over the last four years both as a volunteer and in paid roles. I am currently Project Manager for Full Circle a community-based charity working with children, young people and families.

It’s still early days regarding the elections, so I will be watching closely. One announcement that has been made concerns the loss of unemployment and housing benefits to 18-21 year olds not in employment or training and a linked plan to offer three million apprenticeships. While any increase in apprenticeships and training opportunities is welcome, the threat of increased sanctions through the loss of benefits could put already vulnerable young people could be counter-productive. If a young person in this area is left without financial support there is the very real temptation to replace that income through illegal means.

The Housing Support Worker

Name: Ollie Webber

Organisation: Bristol Complex Needs Service Housing Service

I’m currently working as a Day Support Worker for Bristol’s Complex Needs Housing Service. My role is to support the residents in our schemes as they move towards more settled accommodation. As such, I manage the support and move to alternative accommodation for many clients who have challenges to the detriment of their mental health, physical health, emotional wellbeing and financial security.

Having worked in housing for the past fourteen years, I believe that the impact of the austerity measures taken in recently has had a noticeable impact on the provision of support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society which has taken the form of a decrease in the length of stay coupled with a drive to “bump” people off of the benefit entitlement and therefore have to rely on charitable food donations and food banks.

The recent cuts have effectively contributed to a revolving door effect as we are seeing residents move on from high support too soon, only to reappear a year later.

There are many clients who, to be fair, would be entrenched in the hostel system regardless of available resources. These individuals are just as frustrating to frontline staff as they are to those entirely uninvolved in the sector. However, it is disheartening when there are many more who when, already experiencing homelessness, are having more barriers placed in the way of their settlement. It also adds costs to the taxpayer to catch up elsewhere down the line.

In as far as the future provision of a welfare state for the vulnerable by this government, I believe we are among those who’ve see the earliest effects. Our concerns will sadly, only be recognised when the fallout becomes intolerably noticeable in a wider context by those who are outside of our “public sector housing bubble” and find themselves having to rely on an underfunded NHS or school system.

This isn’t to suggest that wider society is ambivalent or selfish but there is a human tendency to view illness, addiction, homelessness, extreme financial hardship and reliance on a safety net as something that happens on the TV elsewhere.

A government unbounded by a moderating influence such as a coalition partner and political opponent may see little reason to slow any drive towards meeting their own ideologies. In short, we can expect more of the same.

The Doctor

Name: Tom Walker

Organisation: NHS

I work in facial reconstructive surgery with in the NHS and run a cleft charity called The Face Charity that provides free cleft lip and palate surgery to children in the Philippines

My biggest concern is the failure of the Conservative party to understand the link between social & welfare funding and funding for the National Health Service. Reducing funding to those who are in need of support, will have a direct and constant effect on front line emergency, community and mental health services.

I have concerns with regards the “privatisation” of the NHS. There is a role for small scale and local private and public partnerships – where there can be a measured improvement in care and quality of service – with profit being returned to the services. However, I fear that if a wider approach to privatisation is undertaken there would be long term destabilisation of the health care system. I take umbrage with the nation’s health and well-being being sold for profit.

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