With funding withdrawn, the axe still hovers over many third-sector provided services across Glasgow. Lauren Gilmour looks at ways to fight back.
Scots have reacted with anger to Glasgow City Council’s (GCC) proposals to deny funding to 5 Citizen’s Advice Bureaux (CABx) in the East End and city centre. According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), Bridgeton, Castlemilk, Easterhouse, Parkhead and the City centre -the branches facing closure – are among the top 5% most deprived areas in Scotland. How could an administration who promised the people of Glasgow just three years ago “we will not let you down” then go on to let down such a significant proportion of the population of Glasgow relying on CABx?
At the Glasgow City Council meeting on Thursday 3 September, the decision not to award funds was made, with the emergency perhaps temprarily abated by the decision to extend an extra £4 million in funds to third sector groups that got locked out – CABx themselves are witholding extensive comment for now, but thanking supporters for their efforts.
With such services across Glasgow in the balance, how should the left in Scotland respond?
First of all, we need to understand the impact that such closures will have on the local communities they serve and the importance of the work that they do – as well as the limitations of service provision through the third sector. Citizen’s Advice provides support and resolutions to just about any kind of issue from welfare benefits to relationship mediation.
They have stepped in after local authority services that would have prevented the need for them have been stripped away and cut. As statutory advice services have been cut over the last decade, the funding has been diverted to third sector organisations to deliver services at a smaller cost and with less public accountability. Local authorities can count on the fact that the third sector can command funding from other sources. Now, these services are facing cuts of their own – even as demand for them is set to increase. CAB advisor Stephen Campbell, who has previously written about his experiences of working at CAB for Conter said in an open letter:
“I do not write to you out of concern for my own job but in fear of the devastating effects this decision would have for Glasgow’s most deprived communities in the midst of a terrible pandemic and a devastating economic recession, where our offices are busier than ever with people facing some of the worst circumstances of their lives.”
Castlemilk and Easterhouse, in particular, are geographically remote from the rest of Glasgow. This has been a longstanding criticism since the 1950s when they were built. Residents in these areas are less likely to venture into the city centre. Because of cuts to public transport, bus routes have been amalgamated which makes a journey that is only a few miles last almost an hour. If Castlemilk’s CAB closes, the nearest is Rutherglen, which is 2.5 miles away, or Pollok, which is 4 miles away. To reach these CABx centres, residents would have to take two buses.
The number of claims for Universal Credit in Glasgow has been rising since at least January 2019. The rise in the number of claimants hasn’t been a primarily Coronavirus related issue. According to statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) the claimant count has spiked by around 60% since February this year. The economic picture means cases are only set to rise. Statistics from Glasgow Central CAB show that they assisted over 3000 people with more than 9000 issues last year. They generate millions of pounds of income for clients, they stop evictions and save jobs. Citizens Advice bring in more than what they cost to run. The economic wreckage that the Coronavirus pandemic has caused will mean demands for their services will only rise. Perhaps to completely unsustainable levels. With only three CABx centres potentially covering a population of almost 600,000, the prospects look incredibly bleak.
So how does the left respond from here?
The broad left across Scotland will have to unite to fight these cuts. A petition to save the Glasgow CABx is ongoing. The left needs to make it clear that by defunding CABx, GCC is actively denying working class communities the right to free access to legal advice, representation and rights. This is a clear assault on working class communities.
There are unlikely to be political ramifications if cuts goes ahead. The downfall of Scottish Labour means that the SNP are set to enjoy political hegemony for quite some time. The fact that such a decision has even been considered let alone put to a vote of Glasgow City Council shows that the parallels between the SNP and Labour’s previous administration at the City Chambers are uncanny. Just as Labour administrations previously let down the East End, the SNP are set to do so again. The East End is such a huge base for the SNP that it seems completely unbelievable that they would consider such an action. Letters and emails have been sent to councillors and parliamentarians, but on a long term basis, the left has to go further than this.
We cannot allow these vital services to be cut. There is still time for them to be saved. But if the pressure for cuts continue, there needs to be a plan.
In the aftermath of last year’s general election, some on the left began thinking more seriously about how the left can rebuild in communities. Some suggested a year-round grassroots organising model based around the idea of starting community-based hubs providing basic advice and campaigning infrastructure to support communities. Whilst we cannot replace state provision of these services, lacking the infrastructure, expertise, labour and capital to do so, we can create an increased presence in communities who are affected. The idea would be to provide basic advice around issues such as benefits and housing.
Such outline ideas makes a very good starting point for how Scotland’s left could organise within working-class communities. These are communities that have been abandoned to deindustrialisation, austerity and largely vacated by a weakened labour movement. Communities have become fragmented and alienated. They are now represented at all levels by effectively the same people. How is this democratic?
The TUC set up similar centres for unemployed workers in the 1970s where they were provided with support, advice and representation. Crucially, however, they provided support in the form of community organising. It was about empowering working-class people to fight a system set up to strip away their collective power. The left of all shades in Scotland has a rich history and has won some successes from community organising in recent years.
It is imperative we take these actions instead of simply seeking to replicate charities that already exist and do this work. To do so would be legitimising the Conservative volunteerism culture that has sought to replace state services. This would not be about replacing services, but instead working alongside them to provide any practical support we can offer. A good place to start, would be by standing by CAB centres and their clients if you can, with donations, volunteering or whatever they ask for. They need help now.