Friday, 22 October 2010

We are the Big Society

Have not had time to blog over the last two days as have been at work during the day and I have had two quite differing evenings. The first, on Wednesday, where I took half a day off work to help organise the Coalition of Resistance rally outside Downing St, was spent in the freezing cold in Whitehall as a steward, getting people to sign up to COR and also spreading information about the COR national conference next month. I greeted the marchers as they arrived from ULU and Camden and heard most of the speeches, including that of Caroline Lucas (below) as well as Romayne Phoenix, the Green Party's National Campaigns Coordinator, who was the last on the platform. There was a wide range of speakers and all spoke with passion.

At that time I did not know the full details of Osborne's cuts, which I managed to read through yesterday, and they have been really shocking. This is really an attempt to destroy the welfare state and to plunge us back into the totally stratified society of the 1930s. But, as Caroline Lucas said in her speech, the cuts are also "economically illiterate". She also put her finger on the pulse when she described the protestors, drawn from the ranks of the disabled, local government workers, the voluntary sector, pensioners and students as the "big society" and not the farce which Cameron has been pushing.

And here are those who stood up against the culture of spite and impoverishment of the most vulnerable in society, which the Institute of Fiscal Studies has since confirmed will be the impact of the cuts and which has so enraged Nick Clegg, who is desperately trying to spin the cuts as "progressive".

Then last night I was at a reception at City Hall for the organisation for which I used to work and which I still strongly support Transport for All. Many disability activists whom I know from across London were there as well as representatives of other organisations which provide a much needed service such as the Community Transport Association. We heard a report on what the organisation has been doing over the last year but also how its future, and that of many pan London voluntary sector organisations is threatened by the cuts. The point was made forcefully that campaigning for change cannot only be at local or borough level but that there must also be an umbrella body for London.

One of the issues which arose in the speech of Caroline Pidgeon, who sits on the London Assembly's Transport Committee, is that bus driver awareness training falls far short of what Transport for London describe it as. She told how she, together with Val Shawcross, the committee Chair, attended one such session and were both shocked at how deficient it was in addressing disability awareness issues and that this would be addressed in the committee's forthcoming report.

Finally, Mubin Haq, of the Trust for London (formerly known as City Parochial Trust) gave an impassioned speech comparing the demonstrations in France with what was happening here and stating that there was a clear need for organisations which were campaigning organisations and prepared to stand up not just to "alleviate" poverty and discrimination but also to end it. Never was the need for campaigning organisations representing the needs of disabled and poorer people more necessary and never has the threat to their existence been greater. As someone who works in the voluntary sector and is also disabled I am very aware of this. Many voluntary sector groups are now waiting to see how the axe will swing with the councils which fund them across London. And I did notice Caroline Pidgeon shaking her head in disagreement over the demonstrations in France during Mubin's speech, but then she would do wouldn't she - she is a Lib Dem after all!

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