The face of austerity

My walk through a train station

I regularly use trains in Birmingham. I live a 15 minute walk from a train station. Birmingham New Street is the biggest train station in Birmingham. I use this station frequently. The reason I have written this, is that something sad happened when I walked through New Street station. I was stopped by five separate people asking me for change. When I left the train station I walked across Birmingham City Centre I walked past another five people before I got to my end destination.

Now there have always been people asking for change in town, but the scale of it has grown dramatically. I used to walk past one or two people, but now the figure is frequently ten plus.

The reality of political decisions

When we talk about political policy, it is often in abstract terms. The Government tells us that unemployment is at record low levels, those against the Government claim that those figures are rigged to hide zero hour contracts and the erosion of workers rights. Somebody who works for one day every two weeks is now considered employed. It used to be that if you worked under 16 hours a week, then you could claim Job Seekers Allowance. Now I could deep further into the homelessness stats, which I may do another time, but the graph shown in this article shows the increase of homelessness  in a numerical form. It displays how many more people than before are currently in temporary accommodation, which if often insecure and not fit for purpose. What I see when I walk through town are these stats in practice. Reading about homelessness from the comfort of my computer is very different from seeing people, shivering, in the wet, on a cold and dark evening. What I see brings me a sense of shame. Over the last ten years, government policy has directly led to an increase of poverty, homelessness and the worsening of many other social injustices. All of this whilst the top 1% continues to hoard a staggering large amount of wealth.

 The Failure of the Big Society

David Cameron used to talk about the Big Society. The Big Society was dressed up as the community stepping up and doing the noble thing to volunteer and help out in their local area. What he (probably) meant was that it would be upto the local community to take the place of local councils. Local councils who were going to have their funding slashed. Birmingham City Council was projected to lose upto 60% of their funding from central Government. These cuts have happened, local authorities like Birmingham City Council, have made masses of redundancies, but they have still had to provide the same services as before.

 The outrage fades?

The end result is what I see when I walk through New Street Station. It is a damning indictment of our society, but there are lots of incredible charities like Crisis, St Basils, Shelter and many more, trying to help. They will never be able to replace the role of central Government, but they need support. A small amount of time and money can help increase the scope of what they do. Of course we can not give up the fight against the funding cuts given to local authorities like Birmingham City Council. The situation that I see when I walk through the City Centre, is one created by political choice, and it should be ended by political choice.

 If I had told most people ten years, ago about what the situation would be like now, I think most people would be outraged. Ten years of the sight of worsening conditions for many people have made these scenes normal and dulled the outrage. We should still be shocked by what we see and hear on a daily basis, but that is not the case. We grow to accept the harrowing situation as the new norm and gradually begin to accept it. We can not let this happen, there are those fighting against this abhorrent reality and we must support them in whatever way we can.

If you would like to support a charity that fights against homelessness you can find a few here.


St Basils




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