By Jess Brammar
Brexit is one of the great issues – and news stories – of our time. But austerity, now nearly a decade old, has been just as transformative – in a slow, attritional way that is all too easy to overlook.
The reality is a picture of a thousand small decisions taken in grey council meeting rooms, a thousand deductions from spreadsheets, and countless lives quietly made a little worse. Sexy news copy and television report material it is not.
And while it would be wrong to say the bigger picture hasn’t received a lot of coverage over the past eight years, the real-life impact is rarely “news”. These small stories seldom pass muster in newsrooms where reporters pitching ideas are asked by their editors daily: “But is it new?”
Meanwhile at a local level, councils faced with impossible budgetary decisions are having to make hard choices. So how do we mark the slow, incremental, and sometimes devastating disappearance of local services? How do we serve our readers by making sure our coverage reflects what they see where they live?
This is why HuffPost UK is devoting a week of coverage on the impact of local cuts – properly local cuts. In this series, What It’s Like To Lose, we have stepped away from considerations about what is traditionally “newsworthy”, ignoring the usual measures of scale, to look at some of the holes left in communities over the past few years, and to write about things that people tell us are important to them.
The fact is that the closure of a single leisure centre, or a library, is a local issue. If the council stops cutting the grass in your park, or doesn’t mend the swings that have been broken for a month, you don’t expect to see it on the News at Ten. And these cuts are often enacted by people working hard to make the least-worst decision. Do we consider a mother-and-baby swimming class or a judo club as essential a service as keeping streetlights on, or collecting rubbish?
When Birmingham Council recently decided to no longer employ lollipop ladies, they did so in order to prioritise other services. In narrow terms, the logic might have seemed inescapable. But with that, a familiar feature of the landscape of British childhoods is gone in one city. Where will it be gone next?
So to pay closer attention, and to understand the ways in which austerity is linked to wider political issues, we’ve spoken to an old lady whose bus into town on a Sunday has been discontinued, and a teenager who won’t travel further afield to a sexual health clinic area after the one nearby was closed. We’ve spoken to people who have to travel miles to their local job centre, or who are missing their leisure centre and can’t find an affordable alternative.
And while this can only be a snapshot of the nationwide reality, we’ve found that the stories that matter to one person can tell us something about what it’s like to lose that ought to matter to all of us, in a society that is quietly changing.
In a new series, HuffPost UK is examining how shrinking local budgets are affecting people’s daily lives. These are stories of what it’s like to lose, in a society that is quietly changing. If you have a story you’d like to tell, email [email protected]