Unite delegate Jessie Jacobs, a not for profit sector worker from Teesside made a powerful, passionate speech on the damage done to local government because of this Conservative government’s policy on austerity.
She started by telling conference delegates how when she was running along the beach this week, she saw a young woman in distress, crying and fully dressed, walking in and out of the sea.
As a former youth worker her instincts kicked in. So she did what youth workers do – she made time for her and offered support. “Who would she have talked to if not a stranger on the beach?” she asked.
What we do know, Jessie told the conference, is that suicide rates amongst young women are at their highest point in recorded history.
In 10 years the rates have nearly doubled. Self-harm, and eating disorders, Jessie explained, is also on the rise. The feeling of not being able to cope, experienced by that young girl on the beach is a national and growing trend.
Youth services decimated
Yet instead of investing in youth services they are being decimated. Youth clubs and sure start centres are being closed down. Child mental health services over capacity and our schools stretched. All because of this government despicable actions in pursuing austerity to pay for the economic crisis of 2008. Cuts are piling up on existing cuts she said.
And in a damning statistic, Jessie told conference that by 2020 local authorities will received £15.7bn less government funding than in 2010.
And with a passion that brought waves of applause Jessie asked, “Who is this all hurting”? Her answer – “Women, children and young people.”
She continued, “These women, are our future leaders, mothers, engineers, teachers, surgeons, health managers, labour leaders. We need to be opening more youth centres, not closing them, recruiting youth workers not making them redundant, providing a careers service, not taking it away.”
As Jessie explained governments have abrogated their responsibilities towards local government telling them to fend for themselves. They should fund services with their own earned business rates, ‘raise your own taxes,’ the Tories say.
In her response she lambasted the Prime Minister with a message that went to the heart of this government’s attitude to local authority funding. “Well I’ve got a message for the Prime Minister. Where I live our high streets are empty. The businesses aren’t coming. The steel works are gone.
‘It has to stop’
“We have nowhere to go to raise more taxes, we are selling off everything that we own, our land, community centres, our libraries but it’s not enough. It has to stop.”
Jessie ended her speech with a plea that brought the hall to their feet in a tremendous show of support.
“We urgently need a Labour government. A radical Labour Jeremy Corbyn, government, that will end austerity, give our councils back the money they need to keep our communities thriving and provide the support needed to keep our children and young women healthy, safe and alive.”