Whenever anyone says 1930s I always think of my grandfather who lived in London. His family were not wealthy, nobody in the East End was. The East End of London was where homeless people slept under railway arches or on park benches and the police would move them on or if a beggar had a few pennies to spare from pawning a pair of boots or the sheets off the bed you paid to hang over a rope to sleep on your feet in a doss house. Scraping by was the daily reality for thousands. Anyone in the street who needed medical help but could not afford a doctor came to my grandfather, he would set bones and stitch up wounds, operating on the kitchen table and he never charged a fee. When I heard George Osborne talk about cuts which would take us back to the 30s I felt afraid. In the 30s there was no National Health Service, no safety net like the ones we have now, Lloyd George had brought in the old age pension scheme for the elderly but other than that there was just poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment and the equivalent of zero hour contracts where men would line up to get a days work from the boss but so many factories were closed because of the Depression that the only booming industries were soup kitchens and hunger marches.
I was talking to a friend a few months ago and she said that she thought the government would bring back work houses. I felt she was really exaggerating nobody would do that, would they? Having heard the Autumn Statement I am not so sure.
Everyone knows the term, work house, you only have to watch “Oliver” to see what a “spike” was like. The first one was in founded in Abingdon and the Mayor reported in 1631 that “wee haue erected wthn our borough an workehouse to sett poore people to worke”. As the centuries went by they were places of last resort for the truly destitute and infirm with a regime which was harsh to deter “scroungers” from taking advantage of the system. In 1929 local authorities were allowed to take over the work house infirmaries as municipal hospitals and it was only in 1948 with the “National Assistance Act” the work house disappeared. That is only 66 years ago. Why am I explaining the history of the work house? Because at the same time George Osborne was giving the Autumn Statement Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was announcing what the real situation is and what the government is actually going to do. The aim is to make savings of £10 billion by 2017 and £20 billion by 2020; total £30 billion, which is a staggering sum of money. To achieve this in September this year former BP executive John Manzoni became Whitehall’s first CEO with a brief to shrink the whole of the Civil Service.
What is he going to oversee? The outsourcing of who knows how many services the public sector provides at the moment. I don’t mean changing the provider of the morning tea biscuits to a less expensive brand at the Foreign Office I mean for example all police evidence collection and witness statements will be digitised so that police officers don’t need to write up notes and reports, this information will be transferred into the court system and by using video links for witnesses, suspects, lawyers, court officers et al you remove the time and expense of people turning up in person, perhaps the courthouses can be sold off to speculators for luxury flats which rich Chinese and Russians can buy. Some of the services will be contracted out to companies like “Serco” and “G4S” and we all know what amazingly competent, well organised companies they are. So, whole government departments will shrink drastically with IT, HR and legal support being merged and outsourced while goods and services will be centralized to get good deals on bulk buying (you can bet whatever you like that the companies they bulk buy from are all owned by or have directors who are either mps or people that “are known to us”). How many people will lose their jobs as the government proceeds with these draconian “reforms”. Against the realization that every department has to report to Manzoni who will decide what will be paid for and what will go to the wall I have a little list of services which I think will suffer, (feel free to add your own) in no particular order and to the tune of “Gilbert and Sullivan’s” song “I’ve got a little list”…transport, police, border and customs control, health and safety provision, outreach services to the most vulnerable adults in society, freezing of public sector pay, street and traffic lighting being turned off at night, employment law, more cuts to welfare and the “jewel in the crown” privatization of the National Health Service…”and all of them will be missed”.
I will go into why this government wants to make all these changes in my next piece because it is not just to make their friends in the city lots of money.