Crimes of Austerity

As a woman, a mother, a cancer sufferer and a mental health patient, Maddie Wallace is a frontline victim of the Tories’ austerity measures. Here she pinpoints the damage that’s been done by ideologically-driven cuts and what we as citizens can do to stop it.

Last month, the United Nations released a report criticising the British government’s austerity measures because they ‘breach the UK’s international human rights obligations’. The report also criticised the programme for hitting women harder than men, something Jeremy Corbyn raised in the House of Commons during his first Queen’s speech back in May.

I’ve seen my household income reduce by £6,000 in six years – and I’m facing further reductions later this year.

Local children’s centres have had their budgets reduced and many have been forced to close, despite the service being used by over a million families in the UK.

Last year the government stopped funding 25 NHS drugs, end of life treatments for breast cancer patients included. I can’t imagine how I’d feel knowing the Tories had stopped me spending an extra few months with my children, but that was the case for many thousands of breast, prostate and bowel cancer patients last year, and it’s ongoing.

Mental health services have been cut too. In 2015, beds were reduced by 8% and £35 million was shaved off NHS spending on the sector. In January, David Cameron pledged £1 billion to help with the current mental health crisis in this country, but it is estimated that more than £11 billion is actually needed to tackle the problems the country faces from increased depression, suicides and reliance on antidepressant medication – all of which have shot up since the Tories started their austerity programme.

And this is before you get to the cuts to substance misuse, the changeover to the Personal Independence Payment, cuts to the police, the fire service, the loss of the Independent Living Fund for disabled people, overall NHS cuts, child benefit cuts, the slashing of the social care budget for the elderly, cuts to the domestic violence budget, the bedroom tax, the benefits cap…

The list is almost endless, and it is a bitter pill to swallow when corporations aren’t being asked to pay their taxes and the Prime Minister himself has personally benefited from offshore tax havens.

I’ve often felt at breaking point. I actually broke last year. I don’t blame the government for that, it was the medication I’m on to stop a recurrence of breast cancer. But I was treated for several months in the community before I was admitted to hospital, and it wasn’t until I was at death’s door that I received the help I needed. And don’t get me started on the anxiety I feel every time I see a letter on the doormat from Child Tax Credits…

Because of all this, I joined the Labour party when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. He is the only voice in Westminster speaking out against the injustices the Conservative government are inflicting on me, my children, the sick, the elderly, the poor and the voiceless in our society. The leadership challenge within the Labour Party has angered me and motivated me to do more at a local level to engage in politics.

Portsmouth City Council have cut over £74 million from their budget since austerity started, and are looking to cut a further £34 million from April 2016. Their own budget report warns that a large part of their money is spent looking after vulnerable adults and children, so it’s clear where these cuts are going to hit hardest. The vulnerable. The sick. The people who can’t fight back.

Meanwhile, the Conservative-led council is busy building up its property portfolio, snapping up bargains around the country when we have a problem with increased homelessness in our city, and with 18% of people living in poverty in our area.

The council are currently trying to close the Arts Lodge in Victoria Park, a popular local venue for both residents and artists. There is talk of them getting rid of the aviary in the park and replacing it with a bandstand. Local people are protesting this move but the question remains as to whether the council will listen. There seems to be a clear ethos in chambers: profit comes ahead of people.

So I will attend meetings, go on marches, do whatever it takes to shout loud enough to be heard because I am sick of the way this country is being run, sick of the racism that has emerged since the Brexit vote, and sick of my local council’s treatment of the weak and vulnerable in our community.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Image by Sarah Cheverton.

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