Why Are the Poor and Vulnerable Paying For Portsmouth Austerity?

Cal Corkery, a Portsmouth Homelessness Support Worker working with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, has given Star and Crescent permission to publish his deputation to councillors at last week’s Portsmouth City Council meeting to decide the budget savings for 2016/17

I’ve been asked to make a contribution on behalf of Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together looking at the ways in which some of the proposed budget cuts will impact on young people.

Nobody questions that the 2008 global financial crisis was caused by reckless bankers and the feckless politicians who, in the name of efficiency and deregulation, allowed them to crash the world economy. So why then are we now in a position where it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society who are being made to pay the price?

The budget proposals being voted on today represent an attack on the opportunities and support offered to the most excluded and marginalised groups in this city. The impact of the cuts to domestic abuse services will fall overwhelmingly on women. The proposed closure of 2 adult learning disability day centres and the 50% reduction in the services staff will impact directly on the people who rely on that support. The closure of the mental health support services provided by Portsmouth Mind, due to the withdrawal of council assistance, will add further to the crisis in mental health care.

I have the privilege of working with young people who for one reason or another have become homeless. As well as a roof over their heads, we provide support and guidance while people tread the path towards independent living. The number of bed spaces we offer has been more than halved since 2010 and staffing has been cut to the bare minimum. Today’s budget proposals contain a further £255,000 cut to the Supporting People contracts.

Make no mistake about it: this is going to force more people to become street homeless.

Another example of how these cuts will impact upon vulnerable young people is the de-commissioning of the Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) service. MST is an intensive family and community based intervention for children and young people at risk of being taken into care or custody. There is an immense wealth of research detailing the social benefits of MST to troubled families and the communities in which they live. It has also been shown to produce substantial financial savings for the taxpayer, as early intervention is substituted for costlier measures down the line. Research conducted for Hampshire County Council found that its MST service saved the local authority £2.4m a year, a return on investment to rival even the most profitable Gloucestershire warehouse. The MST service produces significant social benefits and actually saves money in the long run.

What this example shows is that austerity isn’t an economic necessity but instead an ideological dogma concerned with reducing the size of the state. The ultimate aim isn’t to save money but instead to reconstruct society in the form dictated by neoliberalism. To paraphrase the Iron Lady: there is no such thing as local services, just individuals and their families.

But young people are beginning to believe in a better society again. The prospect of real opposition in Westminster raises the hope that our future can be different.

These cuts are economically illiterate. They are socially destructive. Above all they are politically motivated.

Councillors, we call on you to stand up for the people you were elected to represent and help build a better future by voting against these budget proposals today.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.