Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Don't Risk Your Future with Labour? It's Not Much of a Risk, Dave.

Here's a thing. Listening to Chicken "Pumped Up" Dave the other day warning me how much worse off I'd be entrusting the economy and my livelihood to Labour, it occurred to me that I'm not, and never have been, better off under the Tories.

I left school in 1981, in the middle of a recession. It took months to find a job, despite my dad nagging me every day about going to the Job Centre. I got lucky in the November of that year - I landed a temporary job as a Library Assistant (Scale1) on the massive salary of £3,945 per annum!

Unfortunately for me, after 6 months, the woman whose maternity leave I was covering returned to work, so I faced a return to the dole queue. Fortunately, the Kent County Library Service seemed to like me, and were able to offer me another temporary post in another library, along with another girl whose fiance was in the Falklands. At the end of our 6 month contract, they had to let one of us go, and chose the other girl (even though she and I knew she was off to wherever the fiance was going to be posted on his return from the South Atlantic). So, back to the Job Centre...

Then, a couple of weeks later, they contacted me to say Jane had left, and would I consider coming back? I asked mum what I should do (I was only 19!). Her advice was "if you say yes, they'll always just kick you around whenever they feel like it" so I turned them down. A few months later I was again working for the Library Service, this time as a Cataloguing Assistant, repairing and processing books, and then, a couple of weeks short of my 20th birthday I got a proper, permanent job as a Scale 1 Clerical Assistant with the local education office.

From this point on, local government became my career (apart from the 4 year break I took to go back into full time education to get the degree I had no interest in at 18). By this time, I had managed to work my way up to the heady heights of a Scale 3 Admin Assistant, and a lot of people thought I was mad to give up a steady job to go to uni. But with no ties, it seemed like the best chance I would have, and I was right. I loved my course, I spent a year studying overseas, I met my partner, I made good friends who are now my kids' godparents - it was all good stuff.

I graduated in 1991.... in the middle of another Tory recession! Jobs were scarce, so instead of the graduate-level job I'd been hoping for, I settled for a Scale 4 Admin Officer post with Manchester City Council, working with the Advisory/Training team for the new National Curriculum. The work was interesting, and the team were great, but in terms of career progression it was stagnation. The body clock kicked in and in 1998, our first child was born. Despite her diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome and epilepsy, I was able to return to full time work after my 6 months' maternity leave, and almost immediately found that there was finally an opportunity for promotion. Some advised against going for it, thinking it would be too much to cope with in addition to a new baby (and a disabled one at that!), but with the stunning support of my bosses, together with a brilliant, council-run nursery (later part of the Sure Start programme), I was able to "have it all" as the Daily Mail loves to put it.

So I found myself in a Senior Officer post (don't get too excited, it was still well short of the Average National Salary). A couple of years, and another child, later, I was redeployed into a team working on the development of the Adult Learning Grant, part of the last Labour government's Skills Strategy (A 'strategy'! When was the last time a government had one of those, eh?). I started out as a operational team leader, moving on to become Deputy and then (Acting) Scheme Leader. And then it all went a bit pear-shaped...

This, remember, was New Labour whose belief in outsourcing was every bit as evangelical as the Coalition's. In their infinite wisdom, they decided to group ALG with EMA and a bunch of other grants into a massive Learner Support contract. This meant that it was too big a scheme for the council to bid for, so the entire team (some 50 people) ended up TUPE'd to the private sector. For a while I carried on as before, but when the inevitable 'restructure' came, I was demoted and de-skilled and thoroughly miserable, as the project I'd spent 4 years of my life developing was changed beyond all recognition. Eventually, the contractor and I parted company by mutual agreement (they didn't need me and I hated working for them!), and I received a reasonable severance package which allowed me to take a year off (as I thought) to settle my daughter into her (mainstream) high school. And so I became a full-time carer. Paid around £3000 a year for a more-than-full-time, high stress 'job', caring for a traumatised autistic teenager. (see other blog posts for more details). Our household income halved, but my partner had been quietly plugging away at a local government career, too. Nothing flashy, but he was hard-working, conscientious and damned good at his job. so we managed. Money was tight, but we were OK - just. 

One year turned into two, three... she never really settled in mainstream and crashed out fairly spectacularly in Year 9, with six months out of school while a suitable place was found (it took an intervention by Sir Gerald Kaufman to get that sorted, so guess where my vote's going?). 

And then the killer.... the bloody Coalition and its Austerity-for-Some meant some of the harshest cuts in the country for Manchester. He avoided the first round of redundancies, but when the second round came up, he took voluntary severance (on the not unreasonable grounds that next time it might be compulsory, with a much worse financial deal). So that was it. 37 years' combined service, and both our careers over before we hit 50. 

I had been looking for a job since we realised our only income was under threat. Despite my experience there was very little about. I got interviews, but no success ("You have lots of experience, but it's more 'management' than this post needs" was one bit of feedback!). Finally, I got one! Almost full-time (30hpw); an Admin Officer. On a fte rate which was pretty much where I had left off when I went to university nearly 30 years ago. In the first 9 months I didn't earn enough to start paying tax (I'm supposed to thank Nick Clegg for that, right?). Don't get me wrong - I love the work; it's worthwhile, and I'm working with awe-inspiring people who are really knowledgeable, empathetic and effective, but the fact remains I have pretty much nothing to show for a nearly-30 year career. 

Resentful? You bet! And I'm not the only one. I know so many people in the same position. "Working People", "Hard-Working Families", whatever they're being called this week. Except many of them either aren't working because of the Coalition's public sector cuts, or are finding themselves in severely reduced circumstances (and we're not taking Daily Mail-style 'reduced circumstances, where Jacinta has had to give up her second pony and they've had to send the kids to a STATE SCHOOL!!!!). In all my years working for a local authority, I only earned at or above the average salary for about three years. 

So all in all, you can see why I'm not taken in by the Bullingdon Boys and their scare stories. Any government which has to promise to legislate so that it can't break its own taxation pledges really doesn't deserve our vote.

Labour isn't perfect (I'm still worried about their stance on social security and immigration), but faced with the alternative - a dog-eat-dog future with no civil society - I know where my vote's going in the General Election.

Here's a handy graph showing what my income has done over the course of my working life. Note the years where there was a Conservative government, and where a Labour one....

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