A ‘Manifesto for Change’ necessary

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Last week, Creggan Enterprises (CE) was invited to speak at ‘The People’s Congress’ in Belfast organised by the ICTU.

Various contributors explored how local communities, trade unions and people most at risk due to cuts in public and community services could come together to promote an alternative to failed government economic policies and to protect the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement on equality and socio economic rights abandoned and ignored by our politicians.

For those of us who work at the coalface – whether on Belfast’s Shankill Road or Derry’s Creggan Estate – now is the time to make our voices heard.

As our politicians prepare to take an axe to public services, and to wreak pain and havoc on our communities, it is time to hold them to account. In fact, I would go further: it is time for us – as local residents, workers, trade unionists and community activists – to set out our alternative and draw up a ‘Manifesto for Change’.

It was the unanimous view of the 300 people who attended the Congress that the cuts which will undoubtedly be implemented by the Executive will hit the most vulnerable members of our community hardest.

The pain will be felt most acutely in those neighbourhoods where disadvantage, low incomes and poverty are already most pronounced.

A recent published study by the Derry-based U4D – the University for Derry lobby group – shed some light on the levels of deprivation in our city.

It told us that economic inactivity here is close to being the worst anywhere in Britain, with over half the population of working age – around 40,000 people – economically inactive. In addition, a staggering 29% of the city’s working-age population have no qualifications.

These findings are a scandal. But they do not surprise those of us dealing day-in, day-out with the misery and anguish of social and economic exclusion. Make no mistake – the ‘outworking’ of the Stormont Executive’s Draft Budget will create MORE hardship for many individuals and families in those communities in greatest need.

Creggan Enterprises outlined its view regarding a ‘Manifesto for Change’, which would help protect the least well off and those in greatest need.

Manifesto for Change

• Protection for frontline services delivered by community organisations in areas such as community-based economic development, arts, health & social care, to childcare, disability support services and social housing.

• Targeted resources for the most marginalised and deprived communities.

• Government protecting and developing local community input into decision-making and service delivery rather than off-loading it to larger national voluntary sector organisations or the private sector.

• A programme of investment for Social Economy and Public Sector works to address infrastructure and social housing needs.

• Support for the development of a greatly resourced university for Derry with an enhanced capacity so that the city’s economy can be regenerated transformed.

• The re-instatement of a proactive Civic Forum as a means of defining and articulating a community perspective to ministers, and as a vehicle for scrutiny and accountability in the absence of an ‘opposition’ in Stormont.

Over recent months, we’ve heard promises of more jobs, investment, social inclusion and engagement with those local communities in greatest need.

We have all heard these promises before – it must be election time!

But the fact remains that many people and communities have been abandoned by our government and ignored by those who control the public purse strings.

We should call on those intending to stand for election to make sure that the promises they make when they come knocking on our doors looking for our votes are kept this time.

Here’s just some of what they promised in the 2008-2011 Programme for Government:

• “We aim to build a prosperous, fair and inclusive society, supported by a vibrant and dynamic economy and a rich and sustainable environmental heritage.

• “We will strive to ensure that all parts of our region share in sustainable economic and social development and are able to contribute to, and benefit from, a shared and better future.

• “Working together, we can build a shared and better future for all – a society which is at ease with itself and where everyone shares and enjoys the benefits of this new opportunity.”

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!

We should be calling on all candidates to openly support the protection of frontline services delivered by community organisations and social economy organisations, and to oppose privatisation of public services.

We must stand together against ANY cuts to local services, because they mean people losing their homes, going without food, being denied essential healthcare, and pensioners wondering whether they can afford to heat their homes.

It is unfair and unjust to suggest that the poorest, the weakest, the most vulnerable should be forced to pay for the economic collapse while the men in pinstripe suits who walked us into the crisis continue to be rewarded.

The poorest and weakest can’t be expected to continually ‘bail out’ those who put profit and greed before the common good.

The people deserve better.

Conal McFeely