Adrian Smith, Labour Councillor for Hitchin Bearton Ward spoke out yesterday with comrades from across the left at the People'sAssembly meeting in Market Place.
It's great to see so many of you.
For five years the Tories have imposed savage austerity measures, unopposed by a complicit opposition and a biased media. Austerity is not just something we read about, or hear politicians talk about, there is a human cost. Unemployment, poverty, homelessness and poor public services.
Austerity has bitten across North Herts.
Police stations have closed across the district. If you need an urgent police response in Royston, that urgent response will come to you...from Stevenage.
Home Start, a charity providing essential help for vulnerable families has had its funding abolished by Herts County Council.
If you live in Hitchin and want to take your household waste to the dump, you have to take it to Letchworth and queue for 2 hours.
Homelessness is on the rise. The Council have run out of temporary accommodation for those who they have a duty to provide accommodation for, and are having to house people in Bed and Breakfast accommodation at great expense. There are 1500 people on the social housing waiting list. The response of the Council? Cut grants to housing associations making it more difficult for them to build the affordable housing we need and provide the added social care required by some of their tenants.
Legal Aid has been cut. If you have fallen into debt and need legal advice you can forget it. If you are having problems with your employer, perhaps being paid below the minimum wage or being discriminated against, there's no legal aid. Even if Legal Aid is still available for certain cases, the funding is so low that very few law firms are able to continue to provide the service, as it isn't cost effective. If you are getting evicted by your landlord you can get legal aid, but there are only 3 providers in Hertfordshire, none of them in North Herts. When people are in the position of not being able to pay the rent and are struggling to feed themselves and their families they cannot afford to travel across Hertfordshire on public transport. But people can always go to the local Citizens Advice Bureaux can't they? Well, yes they can, if they can get an appointment on the two half days per week it is now open, due to funding cuts.
The CAB resources are stretched, and they carry out other functions too, such as giving food vouchers to people, so they can collect food from food banks. This affluent district has food banks all over it. Many of the people who use them are actually employed, but still cannot afford to buy food. It is an absolute disgrace.
But at least we are all in it together. The richest in our society have also had cuts. Cuts to their income tax, cuts to their corporation tax and cuts to their inheritance tax, to line their pockets at our expense. Industrial scale tax avoidance that could fund our public services and welfare system many times over continues to be ignored.
What can we do about it?
Today is just the start. We need to make sure the arguments we have made today are widely heard. Locally we need to support campaigns against cuts to local services, spread the word, hold our local councillors and local authority to account and make sure we get candidates that are opposed to austerity elected on to the Council.
We also need to make sure these arguments are heard nationally. The opposition should be shouting from the rooftops against the policies of austerity. In order for this to happen we need an opposition that is opposed to austerity and will make sure these arguments are voiced in parliament every day, making it more difficult for the media to ignore. The Labour party currently has a leadership contest going on. Many of you who went to London for the national People's Assembly march will have heard Jeremy Corbyn speaking out against austerity. He was the only one of the candidates that spoke there, and he is the only one who is opposed to austerity. We need to get him elected as leader of the Labour Party, so that these are arguments are heard day in day out. If you are a Labour Party member, supporter, voter, trade unionist, or want to become so, then you can register and you can vote for Jeremy Corbyn and make sure he is elected as leader and these arguments can get a proper hearing.
Thanks for listening.