Austerity and Public Safety

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2019 National Delegate Conference
18 February 2019
Carried as Amended

Conference believes that a decade of Tory austerity has starved our communities of essential services, eroded the resilience of the public sector and removed vital safety nets. It has also made communities less safe and left vulnerable people without the help they need. Public services are a lifeline for the most disadvantaged communities and it is these communities that austerity has hit the hardest.

Conference notes that the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs found that the police are being used “as the sole emergency service for mental health crises” in many areas because other public services are being hit by austerity. Conference believes that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with the NHS, the police and the criminal justice system left to pick up the pieces due to damaging cuts and austerity to mental health services, drug and alcohol services, youth services, housing and social services.

Far too many people with mental health conditions and/or drug and alcohol related behaviours end up in police custody, in probation or in prison when this simply exacerbates their problems.

Conference believes that deep cuts to police services have led to the erosion of neighbourhood policing and the important role of the police community support officer (PCSO), which is key to building trust with communities and for policing by consent.

Whilst PCSO numbers have been cut by 40% since 2010, the rest of the police staff workforce has fallen by 20% and police officers by 14% in the same time period.

This has led to a perfect storm where reduced police numbers struggle to contain the rise in serious and violent crime and keep communities safe.

In Scotland, the merger and centralisation of policing has seen jobs and services affected. Cuts to community wardens in local government have made parks and public places feel less safe and secure too.

Conference is alarmed that at a time when police forces are under pressure and the prison system is facing systemic problems, the government chose to split and part-privatise an award winning Probation Service in England and Wales.

According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, the service is no longer providing effective levels of supervision, or community protection, and offenders are no longer being provided with rehabilitation.

To compound these problems, the UK’s housing crisis is worsening their plight. One of the major determinants of whether someone leaving prison will re-offend is whether they have housing to live in on their release.

All the evidence is that funding for housing for ex-offenders is woefully inadequate and the system of provision is broken.

Conference notes important recent research from UNISON that reveals the full extent of the damage done by austerity to youth services, with £400 million slashed from youth service budgets since 2010.

It has meant the loss of more than 4,500 youth work jobs and over 760 youth centres since 2012. The destruction has continued apace – since 2016, at least 160 youth centres have closed and nearly 900 youth worker jobs have been cut.

There have also been cuts to family social workers and youth offending teams. Conference asserts that we will never know the true cost of this act of vandalism on the future of young people.

Missed life chances and opportunities for disadvantaged young people will not appear on any Tory balance sheet.

Conference is deeply concerned that the cuts to refuges, shelters and charities are placing victims of domestic violence at risk of homelessness and further abuse from the perpetrator.

The funding crisis in social housing sector is making the situation for this highly vulnerable group even worse. A survey covering England and Wales last year by Women’s Aid showed that women and children were being forced into homelessness in order to escape violence.

Shockingly, the survey found 11.7% of women who responded were forced to sleep rough during their search for a refuge, including pregnant women and some had their children with them.

Almost half of women (46%) were forced to sofa-surf, some women sofa-surfed with their children. The survey found that one in ten gave up the search for a shelter and went back to the abuser.

A range of local charities such as Citizens Advice Bureaux and Victim Support have seen local authority grants cut for services that help victims of crime.

Knife crime, in many areas, is on the rise and communities fear for the safety of their young people when they are away from home.

Conference asserts that a punitive criminal justice approach to crime and violence will be both ineffective and dangerous.

UNISON needs to sound the alarm when police force budgets are cut and neighbourhood policing is damaged, when probation and rehabilitation services are for sale, when vital services supporting those with mental health, drug and alcohol problems are slashed and when victims of crime are unsupported and young people’s life chances are determined by their class and ethnic background.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)Campaign to highlight the risks to public safety of cuts and austerity;

2)Promote the holistic role played by local public services in protecting and supporting communities;

3)Continue to highlight the link between police cuts and the rise in serious and violent crime;

4)Highlight and learn from positive approaches across the four countries of the UK;

5)Campaign for a social justice approach to criminal justice;

6)Further support our ‘Let’s Fix Probation’ campaign to raise awareness of the damaging split and part privatisation of probation services and the need for probation to return to local provision and local accountability;

7)Campaign to restore funding to youth services;

8)Continue campaigning for improved funding for mental health and an end to public health cuts, particularly in vital areas such as drug and alcohol services;

9)Campaign for sufficient refuge spaces to be provided nationally to ensure specialist support for survivors, including support for Black women, and for those with mental health, disability, substance misuse or language needs, and those with children.