As I write, we are approaching Wednesday’s much-anticipated Budget. Print deadlines mean I must write my column by Tuesday so I will set out what I believe High Peak needs from this Budget, and will assess the actual Budget when it’s happened.
Seven years of austerity have taken their toll on the UK – and High Peak. Both nationally and locally, we have seen rising costs but falling wages, huge cuts to public expenditure while national debt continues to rise. While employment has increased; job insecurity and poverty have also risen, for people in work, for children, people with disabilities and pensioners.
The cuts have taken a huge toll on our public services locally. Both of our local hospitals – Shire Hill in Glossop and the Cavendish in Buxton – are facing possible closure; many people have to wait two weeks or more for a GP appointment and hospital waits are increasing.
Three of our local nurseries have closed as I’ve highlighted previously – some of the 1,000 plus nursery closures nationally. Schools in High Peak face cuts totalling more than £2m and the loss of at least 42 teaching staff.
Policing is down to a bare minimum following Derbyshire’s loss of over 400 police officers and whilst our officers and PCSOs do their best, many people have told me of the lack of a quick response to urgent incidents as there are not enough officers nearby.
Meanwhile, Derbyshire County Council has seen its funding cut by a third since 2010, forcing it to close much-needed Children’s Centres, further rationalise care for the elderly and delay fixing street lights and pot holes.
And High Peak Borough Council say they must sell off conservation areas much used and loved by the community, such as Buxton’s Serpentine Community Farm, to raise funds.
And every week I receive heart-rending emails from people with disabilities who face losing the support they need. This week, the DWP are trying to force a young ex-soldier with spinal injuries, to attend a “Work Capability Assessment” in Stockport. He can barely get out of bed and risks further injury by travelling there. But the DWP insist on assessing even the seriously injured, and refuse to visit people at home.
Is this the sort of country we want to live in? At the election in June, most voters in High Peak said a definite No. Labour set out a costed manifesto to invest in our public services, pay our public sector workers what they deserve, and stop the cruelty of the cuts.
I hope that the Chancellor will listen and act to invest in Britain so we can live in a fairer and more prosperous society.