The Cuts in Cornwall

Though the cuts outlined in the coalition’s spending review have not yet taken hold, it will not be long before many people in Cornwall are adversely affected by this assault on the public sector. Debate seems almost theoretical at present – who will get hit hardest, where and what percentage the cuts are going to be and how local councils will deal with a highly constrained budget. But once the cuts start to bite, opposition, even among Conservatives, will steadily grow. Already, the majority of the public think the cuts are too much, too fast. In Cornwall this view is no doubt even more widely held, where reliance on the public sector and welfare is high due to limited job opportunities and poverty levels relatively more severe than in other parts of the UK. Despite unemployment being around 6% in the South West, fairly low when compared with unemployment in the North East, it will inevitably rise dramatically in a few months time. The false assurances that the private sector will magically and immediately absorb public job losses may not materialise, and Ed Milliband is right to say Osbourne is taking a massive gamble with people’s livelihoods for the sake of pursuing a right-wing monetarist ideology. But how will this affect myself and other students in Cornwall? The potential scrapping of EMA will prevent many in rural parts of Cornwall being able to even attend higher education, with EMA covering, or at least helping with, many students’ food, transport and studying costs. The increase in university fees, which is now being supported by Liberal Democrats, all of whom pledged to the NUS they would oppose any rise (3 of whom represent Cornish constituencies), will not only put off many students from poorer households, but will also create a dangerous market in education – where price of course becomes the main concern for students, instead of choosing the course which they want the most. Along with the £4.2 billion university cuts and therefore fewer places, this will mean universities once again become the refuge of the rich and effectively exclude struggling young people whose parents may not be able to help them out financially over their time at university. Vulnerable families will lose out in Cornwall when it comes to social housing too. With a current affordable housing shortage in the region, the plans to cut funding for social housing by over 50% and increase rent to near market levels will leave even more people without a home, and push those who can only just afford the new rates deeper into debt and hard times. Do we merely ask what will be cut – the library, the local school, infrastructure development, or staff at the hospital or the Post Office, soon to be effectively sold off? Or do we stand up and say people in Cornwall deserve better, and that the bankers and speculators who caused the financial crisis should take the burden, not those who can already barely afford to get through each week? The cuts will devastate our region and the nation as a whole unless we engage to defend working people, women, the disabled and students who will be worst hit by the government’s offensive. Investment, not cuts, will boost the economy and allow young people to have a fair future.
[This letter appeared in the West Briton in October]

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