An excellent, though depressing Poverty and Homelessness Action Week meeting in Barnsley last night brought home the devastating scale of the cuts on a town still suffering the long term legacy of the pit closures twenty years ago.
Where is the hope amidst all the gloom for the good folk of Barnsley – and many other towns facing a similar scale of economic and social catastrophe?
Jenny Platts, Cabinet member with responsibility for adults and communities at Barnsley Council spelt out in graphic terms the scale of the cuts – mostly yet to be felt:
Barnsley residents are set to lose a staggering £33 million a year in benefit cuts alone.
By the time the shift from Incapacity Benefit to ESA is complete, an estimated three thousand people will have lost out locally, to the tune of £15 million. The shift from DLA to Personal Independence Payments amounts to a further loss of £14.5 million a year. Add in Housing and Council Tax Benefit and the cumulative cuts are on the same scale as the pit closure programme which devastated the local economy in the 1980s.
But even that’s not the whole picture: Barnsley Council is facing an £80 million cut to its own budget, £30 is to be ‘trimmed’ from Barnsley hospital, £45m from South Yorkshire police and £5m from the Fire and Rescue service…
The economic and social costs of cuts on this scale are truly incalculable.
Meanwhile, Pat Heath, at Barnsley CAB is facing what he described as a “perfect storm”: Hugely inflated demand for services (already up by 25% this year), at a time when grants, resources and capacity are all shrinking.
Ian Guest, chief executive of South Yorkshire Credit Union is worried that hard pressed families will be forced to turn in ever greater numbers to payday lenders and the likes of Brighthouse – which will only serve to make matters worse by sucking even more out of the local economy in extortionate interest rates and inflated prices.
The heroic members of Barnsley Church Action on Poverty are now working with the local Council and others on plans for a borough-wide foodbank, to complement the award winning Starter Pack scheme they are already running. But no one is under and illusion that such initiatives are more than stopgap sticking plasters on a wound that is going to get ever larger in the years ahead.