1. Rising child poverty now standing at 34% - and it’s going to get worse
In a report submitted to Birmingam City Council this September, the Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC) presented evidence from 17 local charitable and non-profit organisations that changes in benefits will mean another climb in child poverty. Low income families are being hit from all angles, including cuts to tax credits for those in employment, high unemployment and job cuts, and cuts to the services which improve health such as sports facilties, free school meals, and Sure Start Centres. While tax cuts at the top mean even more spare money for the elite our coalition support to spend on their children, Birmingham has more children in poverty than any other local authority.
2. Youth unemployment at just under 50K - with cuts to education, youth housing and jobs
Youth unemployment in Birmingham currently stands at just under 50,000. While there is much talk of improving chances for young people, the opportunities in terms of education and employment are shrinking. In education, low income students are being hit by the removal of EMA in FE, and here as elsewhere the introduction of £9k per year fees in higher education are shutting working class young people out of the system. Changes to housing benefits mean vulnerable young people are being put at risk - I spoke to LGBT activists at this year’s Pride who reported they are hearing from a number of young LGBT adults who fear being forced to return to abusive family homes as a result of the changes, which will strip the right to independent housing from under 25s. There has been a 32% increase in homelessness in the city over the last year, with 4,574 young people reporting as officially homeless.
3. Foodbanks reporting pregnant women skipping meals, and huge rise in working poor coming for help
Earlier this year, Gateway Family Services, a local non-profit organisation,reported how bad conditions are getting for families they work with - with pregnant women skipping meals because they cannot afford to eat. Birmingham foodbanks are finding big increases in the numbers of people forced to rely on this kind of support just to get by. For some, the service provides a lifeline in a time where we have high levels of unemployment, household debt, and escalating costs of living. Many people coming to charities are actually employed but still struggling under coalition cuts which have seen low income households hit hard, with worse to come as we move over to the Universal Benefits system. Meanwhile, huge multinational organisations are getting cheap labour subsidised by the tax-payer in the form of low waged staff, with massive profits and bonuses for those at the top.
4. Cuts to domestic violence services mean local women’s lives are being lost
Birmingham has been hit hard by the national 30% cut to domestic violence spending. Earlier this year I attended a conference at Birmingham University where DV organisations reported on the impact austerity is having on local women (and men) - and the picture is very very bleak. Anyone who works in domestic violence can tell you that one of the most difficult issues support workers face is in helping survivors to make the decision to leave an abusive partner. What we have in Coalition Birmingham is a situation where survivors who make this decision are being turned away. In April, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid reported that waiting lists for services have nearly trebled from 100 to 270 since 2010, with only half of women who seek help able to get space in refuges. The cuts to DV services are being compounded by cuts to other services including the police and social services. As well as a cut to support, the increase in poverty and unemployment is correlated with increased violence in the home - so there are more survivors seeking help.
5. Government attacks on the disabled, including ATOS quack assessments, cuts to benefits, and the closure of 3 local Remploy factories
This April, a Birmingham man, Paul Turner, died of a serious hear condition: just weeks after being deemed fit to work by ATOS assessment. He is just one of a huge number of disabled people whose lives have been lost in the ongoing ESA reform process, which has seen the terminally ill stripped of benefits and massive ignorance about mental illness which I believe will lead if it continues in the long term to increases in institutionalisation. Birmingham charities and non-profit organisations warn that changes from DLA to PIP will have a huge detrimental effect on local disabled people, leading to decreased mobility, more social isolation, loss of financial autonomy which increases the potential of abuse, fuel poverty, inability to finance care in the home, and increase in mental health problems as a result of stress. At the same time as this is taking place, the same governemt which seek to stigmatise the disabled as “workshy” and “scroungers” through their policies and the media are axing 3 Remploy factories locally - effectively getting rid of the biggest local provider of employment designed around meeting the needs of disabled people.
Children, young people, the working poor, domestic violence survivors and the disabled: Our government is attacking the weak to keep the money flowing in from the powerful, and the picture in Birmingham tells us the devastating impact these policies are having on people. It it time to stand up against austerity. Join the demo in Birmingham this Sunday to tell the Conservative Party we do not accept what they are doing to the vulnerable, we do not accept the ongoing failed economic policies of neo-liberalism, and we do not welcome them to our city.