I have just done a Pause for Thought on the BBC Radio 2 Chris Evans Show. The thrust of it had to do with the effects of the Government’s cuts on the lives of real people. Just as the numbers of bank subsidies during the crash became so huge that they became meaningless to most ordinary mortals and just as the Zimbabwean inflation rate reached a conceptually incomprehensible 231 million %, the huge numbers of people about to lose their jobs hides the impact on the individuals involved.
I guess the ‘Big Society’ will actually hit the road running with churches and other bodies on the ground (so to speak) picking up the casualties – those whose world has fallen apart. We will deal with the marriage breakdowns, the increase in mental health problems, real poverty and so on. These human realities don’t appear on any Government balance sheets (until, that is, crime increases or the demands on the NHS increase).
This morning, on my way into the BBC, I bumped into a friend who is a secondary headteacher. He told me he is expecting around £300,000 to be cut from his budget next year. That equates to a massive impact on our children. Universities are facing up to 40% cuts in teaching staff (which are already stretched – yet how many undergraduate students are already taught by postgraduate students instead of serious (i.e. employed for the purpose) academics?).
It is clear that the country needs to cut back and the Government has a near impossible task in making the numbers add up. There is no easy or comfortable or unsacrificial way of sorting the financial situation out. But, there are questions that still need to be pressed:
- Which people are going to suffer/sacrifice the most? Leave aside the talk about ‘scroungers’, there are very many disabled and vulnerable people in our communities who are very worried.
- How has the increased cost of increased mental health and other medical need been factored in to the calculations aimed at cutting jobs and benefits in order to save money – especially given the drive to reduce costs in the NHS, the slashed subsidies and grants to local and national charities and the likely downturn in charitable giving as more people lose their income? (And will real money actually be saved?)
- What is the thinking behind reducing investment in the next generation by negatively affecting teaching, educational resources, staffing and expertise? Methinks we have been here before…
- What is the point in keeping Trident (at the expense of education) when the concept of an ‘independent’ deterrent is an obvious nonsense in today’s interdependent world and one can’t avoid the suspicion that Trident is a mere symbol of solidarity with the USA?
I have no illusions that these and other important questions will be taken seriously, but the problem for our churches is that we see every day the casualties of decisions made ‘on high’ – the numbers have faces and families. Categories are harder to sustain when they develop voices and have names.