Britain’s crisis: Public services under attack

The financial panic is apparently over. Those investment banks that survived the crisis are back to business as usual, making huge profits from buying and selling stocks, bonds and commodities. Large bonuses worth millions of dollars are being doled out to bankers. Stock markets are rising again. The French, German and Japanese economies began to grow again in the second quarter of 2009. In mid-September Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, said that the US recession is ‘very likely over’ and the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, told MPs that the UK economy may have already started to grow. Finally Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has declared that ‘The global economy appears to be emerging at last from the worst economic downturn in our lifetimes.’ The immediate crisis might be over for the rich and powerful, but, as David Yaffe reports, it still has a long way to run for almost everyone else.

 

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Reinstate Nigel Cook Campaign at the BRIT Awards

The Britannia Music awards; showpiece of the multimillion pound music industry in Britain - superstars, supermodels, stylists and fashion critics, and sponsored this year by PolyGram. Stars spilt out of limousines, fans screeched hysterically, the paparazzi called out, cameras snapping. Unexpectedly a chant of 'fight poverty pay' rose from the motley gathering. Mingling with the glitterati of the music world were 200 protesters from the 'Reinstate Nigel Cook' campaign who had arrived to bring their message via megaphones.

Soon protesters had scaled a building dropping a huge banner: 'PolyGram profits from poverty pay', whilst some of us made a run for the entrance armed with leaflets and placards and yelling our demands. We were immediately rugby-tackled by the startled security guards and thrown back behind an ineffective barrier, already preparing for the next run. One protester, the campaign press officer, walked easily up to Cherie Blair and handed her a leaflet. Police reaction to this was delayed and confused, but soon he too was bundled off the red carpet. He reported back: 'we chatted for a good minute or so and she made a promise to look into Nigel's case.'

 

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Camden Council steps up attacks on the working class

The leadership of Camden Council in north London is in the forefront of reforming local councils along lines set down by Labour central government. It began by restructuring the council into a ‘cabinet-style’ affair, after a consultation in which local residents were asked which of three similar options they preferred. The majority favoured retaining the previous system. This was ignored and Tony Blair made council leader Jane Roberts a Dame. Since then Camden Council has been first in the queue to implement every piece of repression or privatisation that the government brings in.

Housing
In FRFI 176 we reported on the Labour government’s sell-off of council housing to the private sector, either to Housing Associations (‘stock transfer’), Private Finance Initiative consortia or through the so-called Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) option.

 

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Fight Labour plans to cut ESOL funding

Labour plans to axe free English language lessons for asylum seekers aged over 19 from August 2007, despite its demands that immigrants pass an English Language Test to be allowed to stay. Ironically, only five years ago the government declared its commitment to free English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), on the basis that the ability to speak English was essential for full integration into British society.

2.1 million people aged 16-64 currently receive ESOL teaching. Many of them will be excluded after August 2007. The proposal has sparked condemnation and protest across the country. Recent reports from Amnesty International and Refugee Action highlight the plight of destitute asylum seekers, whose applications have been refused and who are forced to sleep rough in parks, public toilets and phone-boxes. Many are without vital medicines even after suffering torture. The withdrawal of English teaching will make their situation even more desperate.
The impact on non-English speaking women will be particularly severe, rendering it almost impossible for them to seek employment or education and increasing their dependence on their partners.

 

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