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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Liam Thorp

Battered and bruised, Merseyside can't pay the price of more Tory chaos

Apparently we have all been living in a fool's paradise.

These were the words of the so-called 'Levelling Up' Secretary Simon Clarke as he made it clear that the government is planning to use people who rely on benefits and our country's already broken and battered public services to pay for the chaos they have wrought on the country in just a few dreadful weeks in office.

I can scarcely think of a less appropriate job title for someone who almost gleefully talks about paying for tax cuts for the very richest with a real-terms pay cut for some of the most vulnerable in society during a generational cost of living crisis and via another assault of public spending after more than a decade of grinding and deadly austerity.

To put it bluntly, this plan is obscene.

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Ever since I became a professional journalist I have been reporting on the ruinous impacts of austerity. It's getting harder and harder to remember a time when there were not foodbanks in every community, when the National Health Service was not at breaking point or when local councils could actually afford to offer the kind of services that change lives and support communities.

This is the reality that deprived communities like many across Merseyside have now become inured to - but after 12 years they can simply take no more.

Let's look at Wirral Council. Earlier this year the local authority was forced to close a number of community facilities including a major leisure centre as it desperately looked for a further £20m of spending cuts after a decade that saw the local authority lose hundreds of millions of pounds. 11 of the borough's libraries were also under threat before being saved by community groups at the last minute.

Fast-forward to this week and the council's leader revealed that her town hall's deficit has ballooned from £14m to £49m because of the soaring costs of providing services. Janette Williamson said she hoped the council would not have to declare bankruptcy but accepted the situation would mean the council will soon only be able to offer basic, statutory services without government help.

But government help is the opposite of what is coming according to reports. Where on earth is a council like Wirral supposed to find more efficiencies at this point?

The idea of reducing public spending is even more concerning when you look at the National Health Service. The Royal Liverpool Hospital this week issued a full capacity alert - its second in two weeks. The hospital has again warned its exhausted and deplted staff of a very high demand for medical beds in its Emergency Department. Medical Director Dr Oliver Zuzan said in a note that there is 'very limited space in ED' and no capacity in GP assessment units.

On Tuesday, Nottingham University Hospitals declared a critical incident after more than 200 patients, who were fit for discharge, could not leave the hospital because of pressures in the social care sector. Now a system-wide critical incident is in place across the county.

I don't need to remind you that we are at the start of October, with winter on the horizon. The NHS is in its darkest hour and so far all we've heard from the new Health Secretary is a plan to remove the use of the Oxford Comma and the scrapping of a badly needed review of widening health inequalities.

I think the passage of Simon Clarke's latest interview that most enraged me (and there were a few), was the suggestion that part of the reason the country is in the position it is in is because of a 'very large welfare state.'

We shouldn't be surprised. People struggling on benefits have often been seen as low-hanging fruit for ideological Conservatives. But for this government to make such a declaration as the country is engulfed in the economic wreckage they have directly caused is brazen in the extreme.

At foodbanks across Merseyside there are nurses, shop workers, taxi drivers - all working full time but relying on benefits and handouts of supplies just to get by as their bills and costs continue to soar. Where exactly would Mr Clarke like these people to attempt to 'trim the fat?' - is he asking the same of those earning over £150,000 a year, who just got richer on the back of his Chancellor's tax cuts?

What about the pensioner we spoke to last month who now goes to bed every night at 6pm because she can't afford to put the heating on? Or the mother who is taking her children to the local library most nights to keep warm? Are these people who the government now thinks need less support? If you can feel me getting angry as I write this it is because I am.

Communities across Merseyside have been at the sharp end of a decade of ideological spending cuts that have spread misery, thwarted life chances and created an abominable situation where it is seen as normal that you cannot see a doctor or get an urgent operation for months.

We are already living in a deeply broken society and now this callous, chaotic government wants people to suffer more to pay for their disastrous mistakes. We cannot stand for it.


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