Now that we are all settling in to 2015, it is an opportunity to take stock of what this year can hold. 2015 looks set to be a landmark year for the country and our region.
This is a General Election year. I have to say that for me this is one of the most crucial elections we have faced for a very long time.
I am not alone in recognising that our region has been targeted for some of the most draconian cuts in public financing of any region in the country.
These cuts are not just about transforming our local government and health service, they are about decimating them. They are not about deficit reduction – they are about destroying the welfare state and vital support to the most vulnerable in our society.
There is a clear attack on the working class. We have the term ‘working poor’ returned to our vocabulary. Those who are struggling to make ends meet with the meagre pay they earn. Many being forced to do multiple low pay or minimum wage jobs to survive.
Work is no longer a means out of poverty, but perpetuating its indignity through low pay. Why, in the sixth richest country in the world, should people in work be reduced to going to food banks to put food on their tables? It is low-paid jobs that are at the root of why the austerity measures are not reducing our deficit.
Insecure, low-paid jobs are leaving record numbers of working families in poverty, with two-thirds of people who found work in the past year taking jobs for less than the living wage, according to the 2014 annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The research shows that over the last decade, incomes among the worst-off have dropped almost 10% in real terms. The foundation said during the decade only a fifth of low-paid workers managed to move to better paid jobs.
It really angers me when I hear David Cameron and George Osborne glibly say they have to make difficult decisions. What they really mean is it is no difficulty at all to them to decimate the public sector. Reducing vital services that provide not only a safety net, but also support to those in our communities most in need.
This region has been one of the hardest hit by local government funding cuts, with yet more to come in 2015 as the Government announced a further £60m funding reduction.
The areas with the highest deprivation appear to be those targeted the most for cuts; resulting in local authorities being left making continued reductions to services.
The result will be a fall of £114.70 per dwelling in Newcastle in 2015/16, while Windsor and Maidenhead in the South East will see an increase of £42 per household.
Across England the average cut per dwelling is £45.18 while in South Tyneside it’s £101.15 and Sunderland is £90.45, compared to Wokingham which will see an increase of £55 and £51 in Surrey.
In 2015 Gateshead will lose £7.9m, Newcastle £14.3m, North Tyneside £4.3m, South Tyneside £7m, Sunderland £11.3m, County Durham £13m, and Northumberland £4.2m.
The harsh reality is that these cuts mean vital services such as Sure Start, libraries, leisure services, social care and youth services will be affected.
Sunderland is looking to become a commissioning authority, buying in services rather than directly providing them. Service users have confidence in local government-provided services while there is genuine concern about the quality of provision given by the private sector.
In health, despite what the coalition government says about protecting the NHS, health trusts in the region have been struggling to make their 20% savings over the last three years. The further savings that are being imposed on them means these will be unable to be met without cuts to services.
Trusts across the region are in crisis financially. Private healthcare providers such as Virgin Care, Bupa, Circle Healthcare and Care UK will benefit from the Coalition’s announcement of a further £9bn of NHS contracts due to enforced tendering.
We have not agreed to these austerity measures. They were not in the manifestos for either the Tory or the Lib Dem parties. These are policies driven by the doctrine that the public sector should be decimated in favour of their private sector friends.
The divide between North and South continues to grow. The very fabric of our society is under threat. Instead of tackling inequality we are seeing it grow.
My hope for 2015 is that through our democratic processes by using our vote we can make a difference to our communities, our region and our country for the better.
Gill Hale is the regional secretary of Unison.