The name Somerset might conjure images of apple orchards, winding lanes and ruddy-faced country folk.
However, the towns of Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater contain 19 wards which rank in the 20% of areas most deprived in England.. Writes Dave Clarke
Austerity has hit many Somerset communities really hard. This has been exacerbated in many cases by the introduction of Universal Credit.
In the last five years, the biggest block of money Somerset receives from central government, the so-called revenue support grant, has fallen from around £90m to less than £9m. Next year it will disappear completely. The county’s reserves are now down to a mere £7.8m.
Between 2009 and 2016, Somerset’s ruling Conservatives imposed a freeze on council tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114m.
Somerset council, which in July warned it would face effective bankruptcy if its financial position did not improve by October, decided in September to reduce staffing in its level 2 and 3 ‘GetSet’ family support teams by 75% and 40% respectively.
The Mount Estate in Frome is located in Keyford, a ward which has approximately 25% of it’s children living in poverty. It is served by the Key Centre which runs Get Set groups and activities for the most vulnerable children and families on the estate. The family support workers have been reduced from 6 to 1 part-time worker - a couple have moved on, knowing that the service is being cut and needing to find more secure work.
A campaign has been started to save the vital services provided under Get Set.
Over the last few years, the number of officially designated children’s centres in the county – through which many families access services – has fallen from 24 to 8.
Cuts are threatened to Citizens Advice Bureaux, relied upon by the poorest and most vulnerable in our community for help with benefits, debt, tenancies and so on.
A total of £239,000 will be saved by scrapping the grant funding schemes for voluntary youth organisations.
There has been a marked increase in rough sleeping in Frome, hitherto virtually unknown in this relatively prosperous market town.
This has prompted the introduction of some basic provision in the form of a ‘Zero Nights’ shelter. This service is triggered by a forecast 3 successive nights of sub-zero temperatures. It represents a small step in the right direction, but so much more needs to be done.
One of our activists in Wells (cathedral, bishop’s palace, tea rooms) who works with street sex workers has had contact with women who have told her that they are literally selling their bodies to provide things like school uniforms for their kids. Universal Credit is often cited in such stories.
One upshot of all this is that David Fothergill (Conservative Leader of Somerset County Council) has been quoted as saying that Somerset is now “at the sharp end” of austerity. However, at the same time as proposing £28m of cuts to services, the Council is also instigating a £10m
refurbishment of the council’s premises in Taunton. A true indication of Tory priorities in spite of much public hand-wringing.
The Tories have always managed to position themselves as the Party of sound fiscal sense. They have always been abetted in this by a partisan press and broadcast media.
To anyone paying any attention to the state of Austerity Britain, this mask is now slipping. As they wealth of the top 1% increases exponentially, most ordinary people can see the suffering and misery being inflicted on an industrial scale.
Britain needs an Anti-Austerity Government now!
The Britain is Broken Tour will be in Somerton and Frome in April. More details coming soon.