Why is it in 2014 that writers and celebrities are often the chosen speakers at many demos or public events about the austerity? Is it because the left is so disengaged from the people on the frontline of the cuts?
Last Saturday I was at an event where the people directly affected by the cuts took centre stage. Over 130 people crammed into the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester because they are concerned about the growing meltdown of the mental health services in our hospitals and in our community. At the meeting were users of the health service, their carers, trade unionists, health workers and others who were just concerned about what was happening from across the Greater Manchester area.
Displayed on the walls of the room were banners from various users groups as well as the main trade union Unison. Speakers included a psychiatrist, a social work lecturer, a member of a user group, a campaigner and a nurse. All of them are involved in campaigning and all spoke about the need to get more people involved in challenging the cuts and privatisation of the service and that we can make a difference.
The mental health services are in a crisis and yet more people need them as we face a meltdown in terms of jobs, benefits, services…. and hope.
The statistics are shocking. The Disability News Service showed, through Freedom of Information requests, that the Department of Work and Pensions has investigated decisions made about welfare payments following the deaths of 60 people since 2012. The Royal College of Nursing says there are now 3,300 fewer posts in mental health nursing and 1500 fewer beds than 2010. And yet demand has increased by 30%!
What is outstanding is the way that broad alliances are uniting people in their opposition to the cuts. Stories were told of mental health users occupying centres to stop them closing, of social workers walking out on strike, of the campaign by Disability groups to oppose and get rid of Atos as a contractor, of users groups challenging local councils, of lobbies of mental health trusts – and much more.
No-one at the meeting underestimated the tsunami of privatisations that is unfolding on a daily basis. But people there were united in their determination to do something. It was recognised that there was a need for action across campaigns and that campaigns need to bring together carers, workers and users to challenge the cuts. And most importantly not to allow anyone to try and scapegoat migrants as a group to blame.
People agreed to set up a broad anti-cuts campaign across the north west, bringing together all of the campaigns to ratchet up the pressure in the lead up to the general election. To do this there will be an organising meeting on Monday 1 December at 7pm at the Town Hall Tavern in Manchester.
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