Report on Brent Fightback Public Meeting held Tuesday 17 February
By Dude Swheatie of Kwug
Paul K of the KUWG and I attended last night's Brent Fightback public meeting against Brent Council's further erosion of public services.
Platform speakers included writer and broadcaster Owen Jones, along with Anne O'Neil (Brent Mencap), Anne Drinkell (Defend London's NHS), Stonebridge Adventure Playground, Our West Hendon.
- Anne O'Neil said that under the proposed budget cuts, daycentre services would be substantially reduced if not completely destroyed, limiting support for people wanting help in applying for ESA. These matters should be referred to at General Election hustings and in any contacts with parliamentary candidates, she said. She also said that care workers' contact time with the vulnerable adults they support would be halved from 30 minutest to 15 minutes.
Something she did not say about that that I know from previous painful 2005-2006 experience is that care workers do not get paid for the time taken in getting from one shift to the next, nor the travel expenses involved. That will make the plight of care workers untenable under Universal Credit, where people in paid employment would be liable to sanction of all their benefits for allegedly not trying hard enought to become financially independent of income-top-up payments!
- Anne Drinkell reported that older people have been largely scapegoated as a drain on A&E services; GP services are being largely privatised and the Health & Social Care Act should be scrapped; the Harmoni out of hours medical advice service has been taken over by the infamous CareUK; and hospital closures lead to a bonanza for property speculators. She too stressed the importance of General Election campaigning as an opportunity to put pressure on politicians.
- The speaker from Stonebridge Adventure Playground said that Stonebridge has actually been a borough-wide service and its fiscal eradication would be a crime against the community. Stonebridge Adventure Playground allowed kids a safe place for recreation and a badly needed break for hard-pressed parents. Closure of such safe places would put kids more prone to mischief. Adventure playgrounds had given the speaker — an ethnic minority member — advantages for advancement in life that he would not otherwise have had access to.
- The Our West Hendon speaker told of the incremental displacement of social tenancies to make way for privatisation of housing, and also said that the tenants had become a force to be reckoned with collectively while their tenancy rights had become eroded over time.
- Owen Jones said that Brent Fightback had acquired a well-earned reputation for fighting back against public services cuts and people should make maximum use of the General Election 2015 for redressing the damage caused by 5 years of cuts in public services. He also referred to the benfit sanctions fiasco and the way victims of cuts had been maligned, and Ukip's attacks on migrant workers as yet another example of scapegoating. Instead of Cameron and Osborne enlisting the services of tax-dodger Sir Philip Green to advise Government on how to cut costs, it would be much better for public services funding in this country if Government squeezed the tax dodgers and reduced the influence of the big four accountancy firms and Google etc that find all the loop holes they can to preserve the wealthy's advantages at the cost of thhe public purse.
Several floor speakers followed, with about two minutes per speaker. I was first of the floor speakers and had already been photographed by Kilburn Times phoographer outside the venue with placard.
In my short floor speech I emphasised our motto 'Never Attend Anywhere Official Alone' and corrected Owen Jones' statement that we had had 5 years of cuts by saying that disabled people had experienced cuts in services for several years previous and that the big difference for the past five years was that cuts in public services had become more mainstream. The situation for disabled people as disadvantaged people was similar to that Martin Luther King referred to in his 1963 'I Have a Dream Speech' where he said that where it came to equality of opportunity for American blacks it was as if a checque had been returned to themmarked 'insufficient funds'. It's important to ask why people are disadvantaged, I emphasised. Eg, Q: why are there so many Polish migrant workers in this country? A: Because capitalism fucked up the Polish economy after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. [More specifically, as Naomi Klein reports "the fact that [Poland] accepted [the] radical prescription of free market economic shock therapy" led to a situation in which the restoration of capitalism in Poland has "created a social wasteland."]
Several other floor speakers followed, including a rep from Advice 4 Renters saying that she would welcome listening to people's stories of renting. I had great difficulties hearing most of the floor speakers, but there was a Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) speaker as well as Marie Lynam. There was even a Ukip parliamentary candidate, whose contribution was generally unwelcome. For me, the best of the floor speakers was our friend and comrade Sarah Cox. She denounced the racism of Ukip and scapegoating as means of bringing in an anti-social agenda, and emphasised the forthcoming demonstrations outside Conservative and Lib Dem offices set for the afternoon of Saturday 21 February.
Brent Fightback will also protest outside the Council budget setting meeing on 2 March, she said.
Brent Council's current budget proposals for the next few years seem to pre-empt the result of General Election 2015, I recall her saying, and we should make the most of the General Election campaign to say 'no' to further cuts and privatisation in public services.
|Saturday 21 February 2pm protest outside offices of Brent Central MP Sarah Teather, and at 3pm outside Brent Conservatives' offices|
And our friend Ben Samuel as Green Party parliamentary candidate for Hendon learned the hard way the value of getting up early to speak from the floor, as his potential contribution was timed out.
In platform speakers' follow-through Anne Drinkell said that the Ukip speaker should be ashamed of the way his party maligns migrant workers who are a mainstay of the NHS. And Owen Jones emphasised the difference between most Ukip members' desire for a free at point of delivery NHS and renationalisation of our railways with the plans of the Ukip leadership for privatisation of public services.
After the meeting, I noticed the presence of Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt who had apparently remained silent during the meeting. I wonder whether he 'got the message' that those present did not welcome his budget proposals?