Paul Foot

Stop the Cuts

FACT: In 1973–4: The London Borough of Islington spent £11.6m on wages – and £16.4m on interest charges.

FACT: In 1972–3, councils in England and Wales spent £875m on housing.
More than half of that – £482m – went on interest charges for money borrowed for building houses.

QUOTE: ‘If children go to school suffering from malnutrition, it is the job of the health authorities to prosecute the parents’.
Dr Rhodes Boyson. Tory MP for Brent East.


Death by a thousand cuts

Maureen Robertson is not alone. The problems which she writes about are reflected in the lives of working people all over the country. Some have felt the change slightly less than she has. Many have felt it far, far more severely.

The Government and the spokesmen for big business pretend that living standards are ‘levelling off’. They argue that the cuts which they are imposing in the public services are just a ‘standstill’. The facts about all our public services show something quite different. They show that the services are getting worse – and more expensive.

Three times in the last three years, the Government have slashed their own plans for the public services. First in November 1973, as an ‘answer’ to what was then called the ‘Middle East oil -crisis’, Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Anthony Barber wiped £1,400 million public spending after 1975.

In April 1975, Labour’s Chancellor Healey announced more cuts in public spending. The cuts fell specially hard on new building of schools and hospitals.

Then in February this year, Healey moved again, announcing that there would be even more cuts in all public services all the way up to 1980.


This year – up to April 1977, the Government will be spending £4096m on public housing, mainly council housing. In three years time, they will be spending £4,090 – a cut In the money spent, and an enormous cut In the real value of the money spent.

Part of the cuts will be made up in a very simple way. To quote the Government’s white paper:

“In this year the percentage of costs borne by rents after rebates will stay at about 43 percent. Thereafter it is assumed that the percentage will rise so as to exceed 50 percent by the end of the period – so enabling saving of about £180m a year”.

The white paper, in short, will push council house rents up even higher than the Tories iniquitous and hated Housing Finance Act, 1971.

The cuts hit every aspect of housing. There will be less money for house-building and less money for house repair and maintenance. ‘Local authorities’ says the white paper ‘will in future be acting as lenders in the last resort’. Which means, simply, no more council mortgages for people to buy their homes.

Even loans to housing associations are to go down – from £349 this year to £343 in three years time. Does this matter? Aren’t housing associations private speculators’? Listen to Marie Dickie, a councillor in Northampton:

“We’d found a way of getting homes for people on the waiting list through the housing associations. They’d just about made it impossible to build enough houses on our own, so we went along with the associations and insisted on nominating for tenancies the people who had waited longest on our list. We were quite pleased with ourselves. Then suddenly along comes a circular from the Ministry which just wipes the whole lot out. It’s very frustrating – and very humiliating’.


The sharpest attack of all is on schools, universities and nurseries. Healey’s new package means the total abandonment of the nursery school building programme. In effect, no new nursery schools will be built before 1980. The number of places in nursery schools is less now than it was in 1948! Many of the nursery schools built under previous programmes cannot be staffed because of the cuts. In Glasgow the council has already decided that 14 nursery schools built in the area will be kept empty because the authority can’t afford to staff them.

In 1972-1973, £609m was spent on building primary and secondary schools. Successive cutting has brought this down to almost half that – £349m this year. Healey’s plans bring that down to £217m in 1980. More than half the current rebuilding plans have been scrapped. The stink and squalor of many of our older schools will have to be sustained, with much less money for teachers’ pay, books, equipment, etc.

Even in the 1930’s there were no teachers unemployed. Dick North, executive member of The National Union of Teachers, estimates that Healey’s latest cuts will mean 30,000 unemployed teachers by September, 1977. One out of every three students at teachers’ training colleges will be certain not to find a job when they qualify, despite desperate teacher shortages in all the schools.

Healey’s white paper makes it clear that by next year there will be no extra staff in the universities. In 1972, capital spending on universities was £208m. By 1979, it will be down to £121m.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, it was government policy to provide a hot meal a day free for all state-educated children in the country. Gradually, charges have been introduced. Today, the Government still meet 60percent of the cost. This is now to be chopped to 30 per cent. Spending on school meals will come down from £314m this year to £207m in 1979. The first effect will be felt this year when the school meal price goes up from 15p to 20p.

Joan Lestor, MP, was a Minister of State in the Labour Government but resigned because she couldn’t stand what the government was doing. Joan Lestor is a former nursery school teacher. When she resigned she told the House of Commons.

“Perhaps I should give examples of the cuts in Calder Vale, the education committee has cut £700,000 from the 1976-7 budget. The non-replacement of teachers will save £218,000. That represents a cut in the pupil-teacher ratio. By serving more artificial meat in schools, another £10,000 will be saved. In East Sussex there will be reductions in further education. In Knowsley, in Lancashire, which includes Huyton, cuts include the shutting of 50 school canteens, a worsening in the teacher-pupil ratio, with a saving of £300,000. Reductions in building maintenance will provide another £400,000. In Strathclyde 40 out of 90 planned nursery schools are to be dropped. Libraries and youth services feature in the cuts of almost every local authority.

“That applies to Surrey where there will be a worsening of the teacher-pupil ratio through a reduction of 100 teachers. It is therefore ridiculous to say that the cuts are not taking place. Every local authority knows that they are...”

Remember that Joan Lestor was speaking before any of the recent Healey cuts took effect!

The Health Service

When the Health Service was started by a Labour Government, there were 501,078 hospital beds in England and Wales. Now there are 410,000. Three quarters of these are in hospitals built before 1918. Only four new mental hospitals have been built since 1918. There is a shortage of 70,000 nurses and 10,000 technicians.

A recent report by the management of Hammersmith hospital sums up the dreadful state of our older hospitals:

“The age and condition of the buildings are having an increasingly serious effect on the efficient running of the hospital. For example, there is a considerable risk of infection and fire; both of the two kitchens one supplying patients and the other staff, urgently need reconstruction.

“The total number of out-patients attending each year is about 130,000 and these patients are seen in accommodation which was originally provided in 1935 to serve less than 20,000 patients a year ... Patients must wait in an overcrowded waiting hall and often in the corridors leading to the consulting rooms. In some consulting rooms as many as five patients are seen at the same time, separated from each other by mobile screens, so there is little privacy. The radiodiagnostic department is now seeing nearly 50,000 patients a year in accommodation built to take a maximum of 12,000 a year. Patients have to be left lying in trolleys and narrow corridors, without privacy and exposed to bumping and jostling from all the traffic going past ...”

What is the Government’s reaction to this appalling state of affairs – at Hammersmith and probably 90 per cent of the hospitals in this country? To cut hospital building from £378m this year to £298m in 1980.

“Many much needed new hospitals and other developments” says the Government’s White Paper “and other developments will not now be able to proceed, and the size of other projects will have to be reduced and their timetable extended.”

Added to this, health authorities will be expected to cut their day-today costs. Already many authorities are not taking on new nursing staff.

Nurses who have finished their training are staying on as trainees rather than become qualified – and get the sack. The pressure on the nurses and porters who are left in work is becoming intolerable. One nurse wrote to us:

“Many days, I think, why did 1 get into this in the first place? It isnt’t just the terrible wages and the sheer hard slog. It’s knowing that you can’t do anything properly any more. All patients become a nuisance, you just want to get them out of the way before the next job. I think a lot of us used to enjoy looking after people. You got a thrill from seeing people get better. But now its just like pouring water into a leaky bucket.”

The cuts are to fall especially hard on administrative staff in hospitals and the authorities. The Tories and the Government talk of ‘a vast bureaucracy’ of people fiddling with cards and drinking tea. In fact, no hospital service can work without an effective administrative staff. Less administrative workers means even larger ‘bulk appointments’ for out-patients – sending out perhaps 100 appointment cards for the same time, so that patients wait all morning or even all day before they’re seen by anyone.

John Sharrard is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital. Last September he blew his top. He spoke out publicly about the shortage of anaesthetic equipment in his hospital which, he said, was causing up to four years delay for operations on crippled children. Due to cuts worth £80,000 he said, 800 children were faced with the threat of ‘permanent deformity’.

Permanently crippled children, unemployed nurses, hospitals closing down, patients in corridors, a hundred outpatients appearing for an appointment at 2.30: all these are happening now. All these will be made far, far worse by Mr. Healey’s plans for the next four years.

Personal Services

The most blood-curdling stories about public spending cuts come from the ‘personal services’ section. Investment in this area is halved over the next four years, from £115m to £54m.

A Survey by the British Association of Social Workers in December 1975 found that over 100 new homes which have been built for the needy, the old, the mentally ill, and the sick and so on, will remain empty or be permanently closed during this year. The survey reported:

“The elderly will wait longer for a place in a home; their home help and meals on wheels are likely to be cut; the disabled will be denied the aids and adaptation that they need; the mentally ill and handicapped will suffer a reduction in the already exiguous service they receive; and children and families at risk will be met by social workers with even less time to help them”.

Remember, for instance, those battered babies which the Press makes such a fuss of from time to time.

Remember the baby in Norfolk who was left to starve to death? Remember the hullabaloo, the witch-hunt of social workers?

Remember the Maria Colwell ‘baby death’ case in Brighton? Fewer social workers means more of these cases! In the Norfolk case, the mother was not visited for a long time because the social worker in charge of her case retired, and was not replaced because of the cuts.

Yet the same newspapers which shriek in horror about these babies demand more cuts in public spending. More cuts in public spending means more Maria Colwells, more one-parent families without electricity.

In Glasgow, social workers have been ordered not to pay electricity bills of needy families. As the social workers survey put it: “The safety of some of the most vulnerable in the community is being imperilled”.

Some of the sharpest cuts are to be made on child care and child services. Day nurseries and resident nurseries are simply being cut out of the budgets.

A new and sinister emphasis is being put on ‘community care’ – fostering and adoption by individual families which costs more than care in children’s homes.

This ‘community care’ means terrible exploitation of individual women. It means, inevitably, worse care for children, more hopelessness, more vandalism, more delinquency.

The End of the Subsides: You’re on Your Own Now

When people think of public spending cuts, they usually think of cuts in schools, hospitals, council housing. But there’s another side to the cuts, which, as Maureen Robertson’s letter shows, hits working people just as sharply.

Ever since the war, and in many cases even before the war, governments, and especially Labour governments, ‘subsidised’ certain public services with government money.

They took money from income tax, which hits the richest people hardest, and distributed it in food subsidies, electricity and rail subsidies and even post office subsidies so that food, electricity, rail fares and letters were kept relatively cheap and within the reach of most workers’ families.

At a stroke, as they used to say, all that has been ended – by a Labour government. Already subsidies have been taken off electricity, gas, the post office, with devastating effects on prices. Electricity charges have doubled. The cost of posting a letter was 3p only three years ago. Now its nearly three times that much. Gas prices have risen nearly as fast. The immediate result has been a cut in the use of these services, which means lost jobs in all three of them.

Power stations are closing down -at a time when more old age pensioners are dying of cold than ever before in our history! Less letters are being posted and thousands of post office workers are being sacked.

The government is slashing subsidies to British Rail. So British Rail puts up its fares, often three times a year. Less people travel by rail – London-Glasgow passenger traffic is down in a year by 30 percent. So there are ‘ more cuts in services, and more railway workers on the dole, higher fares and so on.

At the last election, the Government promised food subsidies which would keep down the prices of essential foods. They did introduce a few subsidies – nothing like as many as they promised, but still a few. the National Food Survey in the summer of 1975 estimated that the subsidies were saving the average family 71p a week. The poorer the family, the greater the saving, because the poorest families spent the highest proportion of their income on essential foods.

The Government’s white paper wipes out all that. Food subsidies it says, will be cut from £576m this year to a miserable £50m in three years time.

In the old days, Harold Wilson used to scoff at Edward Heath as the man who brought in the three shilling loaf. You can’t find a three shilling loaf anywhere now. They’re much more expensive. Loaves are going up regularly by 1p every six months. By 1980, if Healey’s plans go through, we’ll be having a six shilling loaf. In the meantime, many families are haunted by a new monster – the three shilling potato. Potatoes have gone up from 49p for sixteen pounds to 182p in just a year – all because of cuts in government subsidies to farmers for potatoes which they’d grown, but couldn’t sell.

The catalogue of wretchedness can go on for ever. As Maureen Robertson said it’s often not so much the big cuts which people notice as all the little ones put together.

For instance the White Paper says that ‘environmental services’ are to be cut by £430m. Environmental services sound like the icing on the cake. But they’re not. They’re street-cleaning, rubbish collection, cemeteries, markets, parks, water services, sewage.

Cuts in ‘environmental services’ mean more dirtiness, more disease. They mean sackings for tens of thousands of dustmen, gravediggers, sewage and water workers, street cleaners, market traders, park wardens. As Maureen Robertson asked, Why?


Last updated on 24 July 2018