As the counter on public (and private sector) job losses keeps spinning – about as fast as the price per litre sign at the village garage – I’ve been struck by language used to describe what’s going on. While the numbers do tell their own numbing story it’s the language of austerity which is truly revealing.
I love words. And, of course, I’m fascinated when they are stretched into new meanings or applied to novel situations. I still think that ‘redundant’ is misapplied. As the toll of public sector jobs lost grows I see no reason to change my mind. Many jobs that have gone, are going or will go are doing work that remains necessary. It will still need to be done somehow by someone.
A little while back I wrote about a conversation I had had in a hairdresser’s about a social work team being made redundant. Their focus was on domestic violence. So it was no surprise to read in Patrick Butler’s cuts blog that this sort of cut was happening elsewhere too. I don’t think anyone sensible would claim that the work done by these people isn’t needed. It is hard to see then that they could ever be redundant in its proper sense.
The complex linkages in local areas between public sector organisations, charities, community groups and local activists is being painfully exposed by the impact of the cuts now happening. A point made again for me by yesterday’s cuts blog.
I was at an event a week or so again organised by and for a range of community groups. The meeting was trying to work out what the big society could usefully become for the people and communities where they live and work. There is a view I’ve heard that such groups have become too dependent on the state’s dole. That it would do everyone good for them to be independent. There may be merits in that argument but is precipitating funding ‘cold turkey’ the best way to achieve that aim?
I heard our old friend TINA – There Is No Alternative – get mentioned this week. She’s not been around for a little while so her reappearance is probably telling us all something about the state into which we’re being dragged. I knew a guy once who was a fabulously successful car salesman. His success he once told me was based on getting a customer to a point where the only logical, sensible or wise thing to do was to buy the car. He cheerfully admitted that the hardest people to deal with were those whose attention wandered at any point. ‘Before you know it, they’re not actually sure they want to buy a bloody car at all. Then you’re screwed.’
TINA only works if you accept the premise with which you start. If your mind wanders it’s fatal to the coherence of that narative. Because it will become abundantly clear there are always many alternatives in public policy. When a well-known bleeding heart liberal like George Soros tells you your strategy probably won’t work, it may be time to listen. Which brings me to Davos.
Of course I hugely enjoyed President Sarkozy’s dressing down of James Dimon, the CEO and Chairman of JPMorgan Chase. A banker getting a kicking? Whats not to like? But, of course, the truth is we need financial institutions that work to make our communities function.
While the Davos kness-up continues worrying things are happening in our high streets. Barclay’s reported yesterday that up to a 1000 branch staff would stop giving financial advice to customers. Instead the operation would go on-line. This is clearly bad news for the staff and their families. It contrasts too with Barclay’s banker-in-chief Bob Diamond’s personal circumstances. Clearly, like the rest of us, some bankers are more in this together than others.
The news came though as a sad coda to a story about the Citizens Advice Bureau. Here’s how the story was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post (thanks to my correspondent for sending the link).
If there’s one thing surely that all of us agree on it’s that personal debt is a blight on many people’s lives particularly those who are vulnerable to start with. The government seems to agree with this given its homilies about the national credit card. And we all agree too, I suspect, that growing unemployment makes the problems of debt greater and harder to deal with.
So I cannot help wonder in what parallel universe it makes sense to make it harder for ordinary families to get the help of first class services such as the one offered by the CAB.
Of course my interest is focused by the knowledge that it may be me and people like me who need that help sometime soon however unlikely any of us thought that might be. This was certainly the pattern in the financial services recession around 18 months ago. Advice services found themselves overrun by suddenly vulnerable people from the financial services industry who never imagined having to ask any charity for help. This time around as the public sector recession hits will those services still be available?
It doesn’t look good does it?
When redundant public servants like me start turning up to find the doors to advice services like these shut, TINA may not be an awful lot of good.