Delegates to UNISON’s local government conference debated a raft of motions on fighting the cuts this morning, on the first day of their annual conference in Brighton.
In the first motion, delegates heard of the threat posed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s drive for “a leaner, more efficient state.”
For the Black members’ committee, Ash Dhobi pointed out that the government’s policies were having a particularly negative effect on young Black people.
And in general, he noted that “we’ve become poorer and forced to work more for less.”
Andrea Egan from Bolton said that members were facing the most difficult times she had ever seen.
“The leader of the council tells the citizens of the town that he will protect the vulnerable, but his idea of vulnerable and mine are different,” she added, before listing just some of the services that were “shrinking”.
Speakers reiterated the call to persuade colleagues and fellow members to vote in the pay ballot that is currently open – and to vote yes for industrial action on pay.
Delegates backed a series of actions, including calling on the executive to build on UNISON’s current alternative economic strategy and developing “an accompanying agenda for local government finance, jobs and pay and conditions within the four UK nations.”
Introducing a motion on youth services, Robin Konieczny of the youth and community workers committee told conference of “another horrendous year” for services for young people.
Since 2010, £259 million has been cut from youth service budgets, leading in the past two years to more than 2,000 jobs being lost, 350 youth centres being closed and 31,000 hours of outreach work cut, he said.
The “massive and far-reaching effects” of cuts included higher youth unemployment, an increase in mental health and substance abuse issues and particular problems for people in vulnerable groups, such as LGBT people and those from poorer backgrounds and minority ethnic groups.
The increase in crime, anti-social behaviour and drug abuse was “inevitable”, he said.
Mr Konieczny’s own authority, in Norfolk, has cuts its youth services entirely, he said, insisting that “local authorities not be allowed to wriggle out of their responsibilities towards young people.”
Jean Thorpe from Nottingham observed that the 2011 riots would have been much worse in Nottingham had there not been a number of youth workers on the streets, diffusing the situation. Soon afterwards, however, the council “destroyed what was left” of its youth service.
“A generation of young people are feeling disillusioned and let down,” she added.
Liz Cameron of the national women’s committee introduced a composite motion on the disproportionate impact of cuts on women.
“Women are at the sharp end of government policies,” she said, informing delegates that of the 360,000 jobs so far lost in local government, the majority of them were women’s. Unemployment for women is set to rise to about 1.5 million by 2018.
The situation for black women was particularly bad, she said, with 52% of black women unemployed.
Insecurity at work was compounded by cuts to benefits, leading women to pay day loans – just to enable them charge their electricity meters – and the now infamous choice, “heat or eat”.
Cathy Bayton of the local government service group executive described the “double whammy” for women who not only made up the majority of the local government workforce, but also used public services “more intensely than men” in caring for children and elderly relatives.
The tales of woe continued in education, where Karen Fisher of the national FE & 6th form colleges committee told conference that they were witnessing “the worst financial crisis that colleges have ever faced.”
The impact of cuts both affects those working in further education, who suffer redundancy, lower pay and worsening terms and conditions, and already disadvantaged young people, who are denied a chance to acquire vital job skills.
“The government is oblivious at best and simply doesn’t care at worst,” Ms Bayton said. “How many members of this government intend to send their kids to further education colleges after they have finished public school?”
Jon Rogers from Lambeth branch told delegates that the principal of Lambeth College recently had his salary of more than £140,000 increased by 13%. At the same time, he is leading an attack on conditions and services of new staff, including an increase in the working week and a reduction in sick pay.
The UNISON branch is refusing to play along with the creation of a two-tier workforce – and has just embarked on strike action.