I don't know where to start, really.
Woke this morning to the news headline that Manchester City Council is having to lose 2000 jobs this year, due to the additional £60m savings it has to find thanks to the coalition government's disproportionately swingeing, "that'll teach you to elect a Labour council", cuts to government grants.
Therefore sent my other half off to work in the knowledge that our single household income could be about to disappear just as the last of my severance money runs out.
We are (or were) both career public servants. We're not motivated by high salaries, have no interest in being entrepreneurs and are profoundly disinterested in profit. Both of us, though, are committed to giving something back to the community and our adopted city. At some point in our local government careers, have been responsible for monitoring income and expenditure and ensuring that council tax payers were getting value for money. And we were both good at it.
I got clobbered by New Labour's ill-conceived adoption of the Tory, free-market mantra that the private sector can always provide "it" cheaper and better. My entire team was TUPE'd out to a private BPO on a multi-million pound contract which had previously been delivered (under contract) by Manchester City Council. The council lost 200+ years' accumulated experience, and we (despite the 'protection' of TUPE) lost our local government pension rights and our careers.
We were told that our experience and knowledge of the schemes we had run (at cost) under local authority control were invaluable to the success of the contract and yet less than 3 years later, we had pretty much all been paid off. It seems that the private sector couldn't provide, as first one contractor was ditched and the second realised the job was effectively un-deliverable. I was one of the first out, and had thought that I would be something of an exception. One by one, the more senior staff were offered packages to go away and shortly thereafter an announcement was made that the Manchester operation was being closed down. A few doughty souls decided to relocate, only to have the Coalition ditch the biggest component of the contract, having assured the electorate that they would not do so, putting their jobs at risk.
So far, so similar to a great many other conscientious and hard-working local authority workers who don't (contrary to propaganda from the media) earn vast salaries, retire at 60, get 'free' pensions (we pay into them, just as private sector employees do), sit around town halls drinking tea, etc, etc. (Even last night's 'Midsomer Murders' had the Planning Chief as the murderer!)
In our case, there are additional issues, though. Our eldest daughter has a rare neurological condition and is on the autistic spectrum. During her years at primary school, we somehow managed to maintain both of us working full time, although this was frequently disrupted by emergency calls to school to deal with a behavioural problem which could erupt at a moment's notice. She's high-functioning, though, and has no learning difficulties, so we were keen that she remain in mainstream schooling. My severence co-incided with her transition to high school and allowed us to manage that transition in a positive way. And it's been great being merely a phone call away in a crisis and not having to go cap in hand to an employer to beg for time off to deal with it.
We've also been able to economise on childcare as well, as I've had the luxury of being able to spend the holidays with the girls. Instead of having to rush out of the house (earlier than in term time, as most holiday playschemes start early and finish earlier than term-time provision), they get a chance to re-charge their batteries and lie-in if they need to.
But here's the catch. As they get older, the options for childcare diminish. It's either not available or if it's there at all, they don't want to go to it, seeing it as 'little kid's stuff'. It's also tricky with a teenager with ASD. Normal expectations on behaviour mean that outbursts which might have been tolerated when she was 5, would now find her thrown out of a scheme. Yes, there are holiday playschemes for disabled children and their siblings, but I'm wary of that 'culture of disability' which means she doesn't mix with mainstream society. It's a tricky one, but in the main, I would prefer to be at home to manage the school holidays myself.
So, in order to provide the best for the family in terms of meeting the needs of my daughter and the mental health of the rest of the family, I would be far better served staying at home (just what the Tories want women to do!). However, even before the threat of partner's possible redundancy, this was never realistic, so I'm having to look for work which is term-time only, where the hours enable me to meet childcare needs and where the employer would be happy for me to be called away at short notice and to take time off for the multiple medical appointments she has. Well, that's looking promising!
We have never claimed any benefits on behalf of our daughter, either. Although many people told us to apply for DLA, we didn't feel that we incurred any additional expense in terms of support or mobility than any other child of her age and as were on good 'moderate' incomes (let's be clear, though, we were in no danger of losing our Child Benefit) we felt it would be wrong to put in a claim. She walks a mile to school, goes into town unaccompanied (albeit closely monitored by us on her mobile), and can cook her own meal if necessary, so we really didn't feel that we were justified in claiming for her. Hers is an unfairly 'invisible' disability - she is capable of managing with most things, and is an intelligent child.
We're hoping that she will be obtain qualifications (although this is getting less likely by the day, thanks to Michael Gove's obsession with making all pupils something out of Mallory Towers) and will be able to live independently. At the same time, she is subject to the funny looks when her behaviour seems strange and we need always to be 'on alert' for potential flashpoints. She doesn't need full time care in the usual sense, but we are never off duty - no-one in the current climate of "benefits scroungers", though, is going to accept that my time would be better used waiting at home for the times when there's a problem. In small, intangible ways, her ASD fundamentally alters they way we can live our lives and that's not something the state is willing to pick up the bill for. Profound physical disabilities are easier for the legislators (and electorate) to get their heads around - "poor little mite" syndrome, as I call it - but there are thousands of people for whom a disability is a lifelong impediment to success. How, in this new, "small-state" world where we are all expected to be entrepreneurial, will she manage to maintain a work record?
I've read a lot of people who expected that David Cameron, as the parent of a disabled child, would be sympathetic to (or at least appreciate) the difficulties that this can present to family life, and are dismayed that he appears sanguine about the cuts to disability benefits and local authority support. Now, I'm not callous enough to deny him the grief he felt when they lost their son simply because I disagree profoundly with his politics and world-view; no amount of wealth can compensate for the myriad ways in which living with (and losing) a disabled child affects you. To those expecting empathy, though, consider this. He has never been in a position of having to choose a course of action for economic reasons. For most of us, though, such a choice has to be made. I would love to be in a position where the next 5 years were devoted to my children as they move towards adulthood, but it simply isn't practical. Nor do I expect to sit at home letting the state support me. But the sad reality at the moment is that it is becoming more difficult to get a work-life balance. There were improvements to family-friendly employment of the last 13 years, but most of these gains are being undermined. The attack on existing terms and conditions, threats of further legislation to 'curb the power of trades unions' (Hang on, I thought the Tories had done that? That's what they tell us!), mean that working life, for those of us fortunate to have a job, will be meaner, longer and less-family friendly. For a much more erudite discussion of this particular topic, see this:
I know this post will do nothing concrete to change the situation we find ourselves in (and my partner will almost certainly tell me my time would have been better spent looking for jobs), but it has at least cleared my head of the rage I felt this morning when the radio came on....
UPDATE: Have now applied for DLA, despite partner's misgivings. The irony is that the more we try to help her be independent, the more we have to "hover" to keep her safe. We'll just have to see if she is "disabled enough"...