Friday, December 17, 2010

Community 'gang-masters' heading your way

Even as local authorities were digesting the destructive impact of the Cameron-Clegg Coalition’s savage assault on their funding, it was revealed that the government is hard at work preparing plans to deal with a sharp downturn in 2011.

These plans will have been given added urgency by the latest uunemployment figures, showing the total without jobs in the UK rose by 35,000 to 2.5 million in the three months to October – the first increase since the spring.

In a surprise for the many economists deluded by self-created dreams of recovery, the private sector failed to create enough jobs to offset those that are starting to be lost in the public sector as the cuts begin to bite.

The jobless rate rose to 7.9 per cent of the workforce, up from 7.7 per cent in the three months to September and taking it close to the 8 per cent peak seen in the first quarter. Unemployment among 16-24 year-olds rose by 28,000 to 943,000, a rate of 19.8 per cent, one in five, and close to the record set last year.

As the latest round of cuts begin to take effect, threatening a further 100,000 jobs in the next few months, research by homeless charity Shelter shows that almost a million households are already in arrears with their rent or mortgage, twice as many as a year ago.

According to Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive: “Every two minutes someone faces the nightmare of losing their home and this research paints a disturbing picture of sharply rising numbers of people who face a daily struggle just to keep a roof over their head.

“We know from the cases we see every day that just one single thing, like a bout of illness, rent increase or drop in income, is all that’s needed to push people into spiral of debt and arrears that can lead to the loss of their home. With tough times ahead and homelessness already on the rise, we’re extremely concerned that this could be the beginning of a surge in the numbers of people losing their homes next year.”

Publication of the Localism Bill provides a clearer view of the government’s direction as it cuts revenue for local authorities, abandons services like housing, education, libraries, social care, focuses on channeling declining tax revenues into restoring the profitability of the banking and finance sector.

Whilst community-run enterprises across the country are already filling some of the void left by Post Office and pub closures, the Bill suggests that this can be scaled up to take on libraries, schools and social care. But the reality is that surviving local services will increasingly be passed into the control of for-profit corporations, be staffed by unpaid volunteers or fall apart altogether.

What the Coalition is really envisaging was revealed in the startling results of a consultation with business leaders participating in the Prince of Wales Business in the Community charity. As well as urging the government to eliminate the checks that prevent unsuitable people volunteering, they asked the government to help them promote the idea of “brokers” on the ground in communities to establish connections between companies and voluntary organisations.

Pretty soon, if the Coalition’s friends and sponsors have their way, those in need will have to depend on profitable paid-for services like the already privatised home care. They’ll be staffed by low-paid workers managed by well-paid “brokers” or “connectors” employed by Sainsbury’s, Tesco or even the global financial conglomerate UBS.

It’ll be just a “community” version of the gang masters who organise people-trafficked cheap labour to pick and pack vegetables, but dressed up in the comforting Big Society newspeak.

The Localism Bill expects communities to pick up the pieces as the Coalition destroys the last vestiges of the welfare state to protect the capitalist economy. Expect no opposition from local councillors, especially those in Ed Miliband's party. They plan to make the cuts as instructed.

Communities should seize the initiative and form networks of Peoples’ Assemblies which can take over the resources owned by shareholders and run for profit and turn them into not-for-profit enterprises that will serve local people’s needs. The alternative is a bleak wasteland of broken services and mass unemployment.

Gerry Gold
Economic editor

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