Story: Richard Belbin
As the Messenger goes to press, details of spending cuts are still largely unknown, but it is clear that they will have a substantial effect upon the community.
A reduction in the central government grant to the Council will amount to £219 million over three years, 16.2% of the total budget. And this is before lower council tax receipts and additional money set aside for social care are taken into account. According to MP Clive Betts, once these are included Sheffield faces a cut of at least 14.5% this year, with a further 6.5% cut next year.
400 council workers have requested voluntary redundancy, with at least as many posts also remaining unfilled. Many jobs will disappear from other public sector workplaces, such as the NHS and Department of Work and Pensions.
Jobs, rent and benefits
With more than a third of Burngreave’s working population employed somewhere within the public sector, the loss of income from wage freezes (announced by the Council and central government) and job losses will hit our area harder than many other parts of Sheffield. Together with the fact that Council rents are going up by 6.8%, this will take a substantial chunk out of Burngreave’s economy.
The voluntary sector is braced for massive cuts, with many organisations not expected to survive. Maxine Bowler, Chair of the local voluntary sector union, said:
“Everyone in the sector is worried for their job at the moment, a lot of good organisations will go to the wall. It will mean a loss of provision of important services for our communities, and it will be the poorest communities that will be worst hit.”
Those not in work also face many changes. The government plans to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance (DLA) for those in residential care homes. This will save £160 million, but only at a severe cost to the 80,000 people in receipt of the benefit, say disability charities. Without the mobility money they warn that those in residential care will become institutionalised, unable to visit friends and relatives, or to take part in society.
Childcare and Consultation
Cuts of £2 million are imminent for the childcare sector. Following a ‘personalisation’ agenda, money will go to parents or carers rather than to the centres directly. In effect this will mean only ‘Phase1’ SureStart Centres (including the Burngreave and Firth Park centres) will retain direct funding, with community nurseries at risk. Speaking to Nursery World magazine, Chrissie Malready of the Community Childcare Group said:
“The Council has not invested in these community nurseries because it has always prioritised its own Sure Start children's centres. Now it wants to cut £2m from their funding.”
Although the Council did announce a consultation, it gave affected groups just a few days notice of it. At the meeting, providers unanimously rejected the proposals. Sheffield’s proposal is to phase out subsidies for childcare provision starting in October 2011 with a view to the ending subsidies by April 2012.
This limited consultation concerns Sharon Brown, manager of Watoto:
“We have been operating for 15 years and consider Watoto an established voluntary organisation. We would call on the Council to be open, transparent and fair when making these decisions that will impact on our children and their parents ability to balance family life with work and further education.”
Education and young people
Education cutbacks have been at the forefront of opposition to government spending plans, not only with the large increase in fees for university, but with the end of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). 60% of students at Longley College receive the award, with some estimating that 20% of those students could drop out if they didn’t receive the money. With significant cuts to Sheffield Futures – North East funding will fall from £443,000 to £199,667 including the loss of the equivalent of 4 full time posts – young people are facing the brunt of cuts so far.
Professor Danny Dorling – author of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’, a report commissioned by David Blunkett about inequalities in Sheffield, warned:
“You may be about to see a situation where your children's life chances are worse than yours: the curtailment of young people's opportunities right up to the top of the social scale. This will be a generation of young adults emotionally battered by not being able to get employment.”
Even before the cuts take effect, one in five 16 to 24-year-olds nationally are out of work, after a rise of 32,000 to 951,000 without jobs, the highest figure since records began in 1992.