Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal wedding cannot hide suffering in Wales

It can’t be a coincidence that the announcement of the engagement of Prince William – “Baby Wales” as his mother called him - to Kate Middleton, after a ten-year relationship, is made on the day before the Wales Assembly Government reveals its budget cuts.

No doubt the months of preparation for the wedding are aimed at taking people’s minds off what’s happening in the real world of ordinary people’s lives. But it won’t do anything to lessen the impact of the deepening global crisis on the people of this small country.

As the people of Wales braced themselves for a savage assault on jobs, public services and living standards hundreds of thousands are already drowning in debt. Over 38,000 sought help from Citizens Advice Bureaux in the last year – an increase of 20% over the previous year. Rent arrears to landlords are up 88%, and 42% to housing associations. People with arrears in their water rates have increased to 59% and cases involving private bailiffs are up 88%.

Like many others, Kate – not the would be-princess but a young mother who was desperate to buy Christmas presents for her children – felt her only option was to approach an illegal money lender. Operating on estates across the country, they charge interest rates as high as 5,000% and extract payments using threats and intimidation.

Fear of the consequences of failing to make a payment meant that household bills went unpaid and there was no money left to feed the children. Kate said: "Everything runs round in your head - are they going to burn my house down? Am I going to end up getting murdered over this? It was a constant worry, every single day."

She has joined the 14,000 people in Wales in the last year granted a debt relief order - a form of insolvency for people that have a certain amount of debt, little disposable income and few assets. Shelter Cymru is warning that for many poorer families, things will get a lot worse as the recession deepens.

Dave Sheridan, a senior debt specialist at the charity, said: "With the changes that are coming, I think we're in for a major storm. Things are going to get a lot worse - at the moment it's only the tip of the iceberg. It's difficult for agencies to provide face to face advice to meet demand as it stands, let alone with the cuts coming down the line."

Across the water in Ireland, as the government tries to negotiate it way out of state bankruptcy, a gang of legalised loan sharks from the European Union and International Monetary Fund officials will visit Ireland for a “short and focused discussion” on the country’s debt crisis, in advance of its budget announcement on December 7. They are desperately trying to prevent Ireland’s incipient bankruptcy spreading to Portugal, Greece and Spain, which would almost certainly end the euro’s viability as a trading currency.

Like their counterparts across the world, the EU-IMF group’s mission is to ensure that everything possible is done to ensure that payments on the debt’s incurred in rescuing the banks are extracted from ordinary people. These relentless attacks can’t be allowed to continue.

Detailed plans of action and support are needed to occupy and defend all places of work at the first suggestion that they may be slimmed down or closed. Empty houses, like the brand new ghost estates in Ireland, should be taken over and occupied by homeless families and individuals. Communities in Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland have to unite in People’s Assemblies and start the struggle to terminate a system that heaps misery upon misery on the backs of ordinary people.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

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