By David Sharkey (UNITE London & Eastern Region)
Since the 2010 election a policy of austerity has been implemented in this country under the guise of tackling the economic crisis that began at the end of 2008. The austerity policies of the Coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government have taken the form of massive cuts to public spending and welfare that on the ground in many communities throughout the UK have meant hardship, unemployment and homelessness. The economic recovery that is now, at last, taking place, is not benefitting the majority of people, including many in our community.
The United Kingdom is the sixth wealthiest country in the world yet today many families up and down Britain rely on ‘Food Banks’. These are places run by charities or Churches where people can go with a voucher, usually from the local Social Services, to be given basic food items: yet these items for the hungry may be of little use if there is no money to put on the electric key or gas card.
People on benefits such as Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance can face sanctions if they fail to comply sufficiently with activity directed by Job Centre Plus. People living with HIV/AIDS who have been on benefit are now being faced with these additional challenges along with possible quarterly work capability assessments, adding unnecessary stress for this vulnerable group.
The Coalition government announced further cuts to welfare including the withdrawal of Housing Benefit for under-25s. This will impact on young people if they are not able to live with their parents because of their sexuality, yet in a place like London with a housing crisis and out of control rents, along with the precarious nature of employment for young people today and the low wages paid, young LGBT people may rely on Housing Benefit support. With that withdrawn, the result will be homelessness, something that is on the rise in London.
Cuts in public spending have meant cuts to voluntary LGBT organisations with a long history of supporting our communities: services that many in our communities relied upon are withdrawn.
In a climate such as the one we find ourselves in today just as in the 1980s social tolerance lessens, politicians look for scapegoats to blame, and a rolling back of wins slowly starts to take place.
In London, LGBT people having less money will impact on the commercial scene. The cost of living has risen and wages have gone down. The result is that you have to make your money go further, so what is now the luxury of going out to a club at the weekend is first to be dropped. That means less money going into the commercial scene, and as numbers tail off a venue may in the end have to close its doors.
As a young, working, gay man I am finding it harder to manage on my pay for just the essentials of daily life, and can towards the end of the month find I do not have any money at all in my bank account, simply because under austerity my wages do not match the inflated cost of living.
There are campaigns against austerity and the hardship inflicted on people, there are local anti-cuts campaigns; Save Our NHS local groups and the Trade Unions are all working together to resist the austerity imposed on our communities. There is an umbrella body for all opposed to the misery of austerity, the People’s Assembly – www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk and as part of that there is a LGBTQ People’s Assembly: it is happening in April and I would encourage you to be involved in.
David Sharkey (UNITE London & Eastern Region)
Southern, London & Eastern Region Trades Union Congress, LGBT Network, Secretary