Cornwall Council voted today to put over 1500 already vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing and being thrown out on to the streets – ignoring the public outrage expressed in Sunday’s large ‘camp out’ demonstration.
The council chose to slash the Supporting People programme while having £127m in reserves – a gigantic proportion of which could be used to save such funding. The very same council are spending £2,000 a day on Sir Banham, a stand-in chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership.
The Supporting People programme, a key defence against homelessness in the County, provides funding for sheltered housing and other specialised supported housing projects across the country. The government itself has attacked making large cuts to the scheme, and Cornwall’s goes far beyond others; this is no small cut. The Council voted by 65-40 for a 40% reduction in funding for the programme. While nationally the cuts are savage in scale, the council have proved they wish to exceed that pace by ‘front-loading’ – ie. making as early as possible – already front-loaded cuts – to help for those at risk of homelessness.
The decision was made despite huge public opposition to the cut. Around 80 people camped outside County Hall on Sunday night in opposition to the plans, declaring those affected ‘Homeless, not Worthless’.
Disturbingly, Stephen Gilbert MP – a Liberal Democrat and junior whip in the coalition – came to ‘lend his support’, despite himself forcing MPs nationally to support the largest spending cuts since the 1930s. If he was not implementing economic brutality in Westminster the Council would not be making these cuts whatsoever. The sheer insanity of his participation in the protest caused considerable disgust in some quarters.
I was at the demonstration, along with several other students, and it was a true coalition of concerned citizens – Greens, voluntary workers, Labour members, vulnerable people themselves, residents, locals and campaigners. Many stayed in just a sleeping bag on cardboard on the floor – right next to the entrance that councillors pass through to make these detrimental choices. The temperature apparently dropped to -1 in the morning, and few got much sleep – myself included. But this is an everyday reality for many – and the problem is now set to skyrocket. The press were a constant presence and asked many how they felt about the cuts: the responses were unequivocal. Cornwall UNISON backed the protest and regional organiser Stuart Roden came along, saying support ‘services will be severely cut and many will end, totally divesting essential support to the most vulnerable in society.”
As well the large grassroots opposition, the move to cut SP by 40% is opposed by all Mebyon Kernow and Liberal Democrat councillors, as well as Jude Robinson, the first Labour councillor in the Unitary authority. The couple of Independent rebel votes were not enough to stop the axe-budget passing due to the Tory/Independent council coalition apparently warning councillors they ‘must support our budget’. Several councillors, including Jude Robinson, Alex Folkes, and many town councillors, came (and even camped out) to support the night-long occupation. Former Labour MP Candy Atherton also came to express her solidarity.
Homeless shelters such as Cosgarne could be forced to intensely scale back their support, or even close, because of these cuts, pushing hundreds more on to the streets of Cornwall. Though not officially a huge problem in Cornwall, the attack on funding will exacerbate the number of people without a place to stay – leading to increased burdens on the NHS (homeless people suffer considerably more health problems – both mental and physical) and the police service as people turn to crime to afford necessities.
The Tory/Independent coalition of Cornwall Council – which could just as easily be a 100% Conservative administration – have sold out the electors they claim to represent. But despite the vote passing, the anger will not fade away – indeed, the anger has only just begun.