We must stop The Hunger Games becoming reality
PUBLISHED: 10:56 26 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 26 March 2018
Two recent stories in the Evening News caught my eye. One had the headline: 'Teachers turning to their own money for classroom goods and pupil's meals'.
The second, a front-page story, urged people to dig deep during the bitterly cold weather and warned: “hundreds of needless deaths could occur as the elderly and vulnerable are left facing the starkest choice – eat or heat”.
Charity and personal generosity are being asked to pick up the tab. No-one, it seems, is questioning whether the government has any responsibility to tackle this as no minister has been called to account.
The shocking fact is that since 2010, hunger has emerged as a central plank of government policy. Interestingly, ‘The Hunger Games’ series – a cruel fictional society rooted in the reality of the lives of many people wondering where the next meal was coming from – came to cinemas roughly at the time that more and more people became dependent on foodbanks.
It’s a trend set to continue because of higher inflation, cuts in working tax credits for those on low wages, uncontrolled rents in the private rented sector and a further shredding of the safety net we all need if hardship or misfortune strikes.
Damaging policies like benefit sanctions, Universal Credit and disability assessments cost more than money saved. From next month, a new round of cuts will affect 11 million families, including five million of the ‘just about managing’ families that the Prime Minister stated she would help. Did anybody really vote for this?
By a small margin, Great Britain voted to leave the European Union. The airwaves are filled with talk of ‘sovereignty’, bespoke trade deals, control over our borders and so on. But the regular business of government has more or less ground to a halt over Brexit.
Meanwhile, continued public expenditure cuts create further self-inflicted wounds. We are not going to build a strong society or economy on those foundations.
Some time ago, the International Monetary Fund concluded that poverty is bad for growth. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that in the UK the policies responsible for increasing poverty now cost close to £78bn each year.
In Norwich, to take one local example, it costs £1m to deal with the growing rough sleeping crisis.
At a time of great uncertainty, government is in poor shape. Its preferred option of private sector organisations running many of our key public services or delivering major government contracts, is looking very wobbly.
The collapse of Carillion continues to cause major problems; homecare companies are financially fragile; owners of some academy chains are finding providing education difficult and are pulling out. The same applies to train companies that overbid for rail franchises – East Coast Mainline the most recent example. All of us pick up the cost of these failures.
Local government, which provides so many vital services, continues to be under threat of cuts, and with no end in sight. One conservative-led county council, Northamptonshire, has already gone bust. It won’t be the last.
What will it mean for the citizens of that local authority area in terms of services for children, the elderly, libraries and neighbourhoods? Can we really accept endangering lives, and quality of life, for an ideology that wants to shrink the role of the state, whatever the cost?
By contrast, the Labour administration at City Hall believes in a strong and active local government that invests in local communities – not offshore!
This was the approach we took at our budget council in February. We believe social investment is as important as physical investment. Blended together we get ‘good growth’.
For example, the council homes we’re building in Norwich creates jobs, boosts the economy and provides good quality energy efficient housing at reasonable rents which gives families more disposable income. Good housing improves general health, and for children, higher levels of educational attainment.
Good growth benefits everyone across Norwich and is the focus of our citywide ‘2040 Norwich city vision’ work.
The alternative is a grim prospect indeed – austerity without end and a hollowed-out state, locally and nationally. If that comes to pass we won’t need to go and see films like The Hunger Games, we will all be living it.