Paul Foot

Stop the Cuts

‘We stand in Britain on the threshold of mass abundance’.
Anthony Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 1956.

‘The Party’s Over’.
Anthony Crosland, Secretary of State for the Environment, speaking in Manchester Town Hall, May 1975.


A letter from Maureen Robertson

“Can you please tell me what is going on?” Maureen Robertson writes a long letter to Socialist Worker. She lives with her husband and three children in a council estate in a large Midlands town. Her husband is a skilled worker in an engineering factory.

The family isn’t poor – not by the standards of some of her neighbours. But Maureen Robertson is in distress.

“We came to live here more than ten years ago” she says. “Things seemed very good then. We’d been married about five years and the eldest two kids were growing up so that you could talk to them. We’d been Irving with my parents till then, and it was wonderful to move into our own flat, with a bathroom of our own.

“Soon after we moved in, I got a part-time job in a bottle factory. The work was quite hard, but I really liked going to work. It was a change after baby talk and housework all day. We had a lot of . laughs in the factory, and there was more money at the end of the week, even after I’d paid a bit to have the kids looked after.

“We started doing things we never thought we would. There was money enough for us to go out in the evening, sometimes twice a week. We went on holiday abroad, and we even managed to pay for a holiday for my Mum and Dad, a sort of thanks for them having us all that time.

“It’s all changed. I can’t work out when it changed, though it seemed to happen very suddenly. I lost my job last year; I think that was the start of it. Suddenly they came down and sacked a whole section of us part-timers. Sales were down they said, and the women and part-timers would have to go.

“That was the extra money gone, just like that. Of course, we could still pay the rent, and we can still eat and heat the place, though the bills really are fantastic. It’s a real fear waiting for those bills. The electricity bill b the worst. Then the phone -I think the phone’s got to come out next month.

“I could just get by with the extra bills if it wasn’t for all the niggling little things that seem to be getting worse all at the same time. Each one seems little, but they’re big when you add them up.

“My parents, for instance. I think in many ways what’s happened to them is the worst of all. They both used to go down town twice a week for cheap meals on the council. The council had set up this centre where you could get a good lunch for 10p. But it wasn’t so much the lunch, it was the company. They used to look forward to going down there. Last month the council just stopped the meals. And they stopped helping old people with their phone bills. Mum and Dad had to take the phone out. It was their only contact with their friends and children.

“Next year, they say, the council are cutting out cheap fares on the buses for old folk. They can go anywhere for 1p now, but that will go up. In fact, they said in the paper they might have to pay the full fare. That’s 15p each! They can’t afford it. So they won’t even be able to travel once a week.

“The other day I had a call from the hospital. ‘Mrs.Robertson? I’m afraid your mother has had a nasty fall in the street. She’ll need looking after for a week. Could you come and fetch her?’ I said, I just hadn’t got a place to keep her for a week, and couldn’t they keep her in hospital? No, they had no beds. They’re closing the hospital, and shifting over to one five miles away.

“I had to take the kids and go and live with Mum for ten days while she got over her fall. The fares to school went up three times! And the extra expense of trying to keep both homes going at the same time, well, we’re still trying to pay it back.

“Then I got a letter from the bottle factory. Could I do one day a week, as they’d just had a new order. Well, one day a week would just about pay to keep the phone in – but what could I do about Jill? She’s only three and a half. I can’t leave her on her own, and Rob and Jim have got football three times a week. I looked around for help. There’s no council nursery here, though lots of women work full time. I asked the bottle factory manager – Oh no, he had ‘no facilities for children here’ – I’d have to make my own arrangements. I finally found a woman on the estate who said she’d do it for £1. That’s a fifth of the shift money gone. It wasn’t worth the bother. So I scrubbed it.

“I don’t know what’s happening up at the school, it used to be good. Rob still gets his school dinners, but there’s none for Jim. Quite often, they just come back mid-day. ‘Teacher’s sick’, they say, ‘and they sent us home’. So they kick around, getting on your nerves. I get annoyed when they’re here – and bored when they’re not.

“Buses. You used to be able to get a bus into town quite regularly. But that’s all stopping. The other day I waited 45 minutes for a service that’s meant to come every 10 minutes. They say they’re cutting back on the services even more. But that’s the only way you can move around here, by bus.

“I get this feeling all the time that I’m in prison. I can’t get to work because there aren’t any jobs, and no nurseries even if there were. The buses are so bad it’s not worth trying to move. The bills get higher and higher and the services seem to get worse and worse. Repair men from the council, who used to come regularly when you complained now can’t come. I’ve three window frames rotting. There’s condensation in one bedroom and in the kids’ room. I went to the town hall the other day to complain, and they laughed at me. Another 30p in fares wasted.

“Bills, schools, hospitals, bus services, all getting worse. Even the dustbins seem to stay full for longer. It’s definitely cracking me up. I went to the doctor the other day. He’s a friendly man. I used to like going when the kids were small, because he was gentle with them, and put me at ease. This time, he almost barked at me. There’s nothing physically wrong, then? I said no, it was getting more and more difficult to make ends meet. He just wrote me out a prescription for Valium, and that was that. The Valium seems to help a bit.

“I get annoyed by Mum and Dad, annoyed by the kids – and I get on much worse with Jack than I used to. We used to be good friends – lots of rows, of course, but lots of laughs, too. We used to make plans about what we would do – and we had all these jokes about the ads on the telly. We don’t seem to laugh much now. Endless rows we have.

“I was thinking the other day about what we row about, and I realised it was almost always about money. We just can’t stop blaming each other all the time; I say I just can’t buy what we need and accuse him of spending too much. To be honest, I don’t think he spends very much at all – no more than his fares and perhaps a couple of rounds of drinks a week. But I don’t even have the money for a couple of drinks. I’ve got to have someone to blame. So then he blows his top ...

“It’s almost as if we try to say nothing to each other, so we don’t talk about money.

“I don’t suppose I’ve ever thought much about politics before. I used to have a general feeling that things would get better. But they’re not. They’re getting worse.

“Jack brought in your paper from work the other day. He said he bought it from his mate in the factory.

“I read in there about the cuts in public spending, and how you’re against them. But can you tell me, plainly why this is all happening – and if there’s anything that people like me can do about it.”


Last updated on 24 July 2018