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Lib Dems declare war on voluntary sector
OVER 200 people marched through the centre of Liverpool on 26 January in protest at the biggest attack on the voluntary sector the city has seen. In the latest round of grants to advice agencies, community organisations and locally organised groups, the Liberal Democrat council is proposing massive cuts of over £1.7 million.
Tony Aitman, UNISON shop steward, Citizens Advice Bureau, personal capacity
The composition of the march reflected the enormous effect this will have on the people of Liverpool. Represented was Merseyside Welfare Rights, which deals with over 11,000 queries a year. The grant cuts mean it will have to close.
Also there were Citizens Advice Bureaux from across the city; part of the advice network that has brought over £9 million to the poorest sections of Liverpool. They were forced by the Liberal Democrat council to issue redundancy notices to staff over the Christmas period. The march was led by a sheep from the Rice Lane Farm, where many inner-city children have their only chance get to see farm animals.
The council cuts will have a double blow. Many of the groups affected receive Lottery or other funding. However, much of this is given on the basis of there being match funding from the council. With the council grant gone or slashed, this other funding will be withdrawn, leaving the groups in crisis.
And who will suffer? Apart from the job losses, it is the poorest sections of Liverpool, who rely on the advice agencies for debt, welfare benefits and housing advice and representation in courts and at tribunals. The city council wants to see a business arrangement with the voluntary sector, where their services are sold. But if people could afford to buy the services of the voluntary sector, there would be no need for much of it in the first place. Its job is to plug the gaps in government and council services. The government spends more on chasing so-called "benefit fraud" than it does on helping people claim what they are entitled to.
The next step has to be co-ordinated action by all the groups affected, together with the council employees. Apart from the cuts in grants, the council is carrying out a campaign of harassment and victimisation against the social workers who were recently on strike - again, the very people who care for the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of society.
A campaign must be launched for more government aid to the city, backed up by a one-day strike of all the voluntary groups and agencies, whether they have been cut or not, and the council employees. It is vital that a joint trade union committee be set up, linking the voluntary sector unions with the council unions, to take the fight forward.
These cuts will have a devastating effect on jobs and services, and the poorest sections of Liverpool. Given the level of anger and opposition, this is one fight we can win.
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