Last week, Worcester witnessed an increasingly rare spectacle: the public taking to the streets to highlight an issue of great concern. Nearly 200 of us took part in the StandUp4Care rally (https://www.facebook.com/Standupforcare/). With the county council’s budget cut by over £50m in the last two years, social care has been hit hard. Cuts to the public health budget announced recently will further significantly reduce services and support for people suffering domestic abuse, homelessness and drug or alcohol addiction. Osborne’s Autumn statement will exacerbate an already grim picture; the response of local MPs is one of compliant complacency.
Those who marched were made up of ordinary people from all backgrounds united by a desire to say that our most vulnerable can take no more. But while it was gratifying that so many were determined to take part, what really struck those of us organising the rally was just how difficult it has become to engage the charitable sector.
Charities in this country have a fantastic tradition not only of helping those most in need, but in drawing the attention of our political “masters” to their plight. One thinks of past hard-hitting campaigns from the likes of Barnardo’s and Shelter. But now charities have become cowed, frightened of appearing to be critical of government.
As government “rolls back the state”, requiring the voluntary sector to take on services that used to be undertaken by paid professionals (but with much reduced funding), charities compete with eachother for government contracts. Ever more reliant on such funding, they are no longer prepared even to nibble, let alone bite, the hand that now feeds it.
What a neat trick the government has pulled off: service provision on the cheap and a voluntary sector that no longer feels able to speak out for those who need their advocacy most.
Never have the words of Peter Finch in Network been so relevant: “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.”