Friday, June 19, 2015

Kids stuffed

Standing outside 10 Downing Street on the morning after his party's election victory last month, David Cameron declared that the Tories would "govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom". He went on to explain that, among other things, this means "giving everyone in our country a chance - so no matter where you're from, you have the opportunity to make the most of your life". More specifically, it means "that for children who don't get the best start in life, there must be the nursery education and good schooling that can transform their life chances".

Fine words indeed, but completely empty rhetoric - as evidenced by the fact that barely a month later Oxfordshire County Council, beset by politically motivated government cuts and bracing themselves for further blows in the wake of the election result, is set to close Children's Centres across the county. While the Tories may not actually be pulling the trigger, they've loaded all of the chambers with bullets and pressed the barrel of the gun against the Council's temple.

When the Centres last came under threat, at the tail-end of 2013, I wrote about the vital role they play in local communities. On that occasion, popular protest won the day, but the Centres' card was obviously marked and there now seems to be depressingly little likelihood of being able to put the brakes on a decision that has been taken out of political and economic desperation with insufficient consideration of the consequences. As Oxford East MP Andrew Smith has commented, "It would be socially damaging and a false economy if more children and young people are held back in deprivation and troubled lives as a result, because the long-term human and economic costs of that are huge." Naturally, though, the long-term costs are regarded as immaterial - the sole concern is with the present.

The impact of the closures won't only be experienced by children, either. For many new parents, feeling out of their depth and all at sea in an unfamiliar environment, the Centres are an essential lifeboat. While it goes without saying that the cuts will hit the poor hardest, there are some issues that can affect anyone, regardless of their background and social status, such as mental health. Surely prevention is better than cure?

There's little hope of money being pumped into the already underfunded mental health services to help compensate, while other institutions such as schools - themselves operating on reduced budgets - will inevitably be expected to pick up some of the pieces. This too will be where Cameron's Great Society comes in, out of necessity - parents and volunteers may perhaps even step in to take over the running of the Centres, providing critical services that his victory speech implied (rightly) are the state's responsibility.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised that Cameron's rhetoric was empty or that the Tories don't seem to care about the damage their austerity measures are having. After all, this is the party that has already slashed benefits in the full knowledge that those who will suffer most acutely are children. Is it any wonder that people are cynical about politics when we're governed by lying, hypocritical cunts who talk airily about equality of opportunity and life chances while enriching their chums and pushing others into poverty?

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