So right now I am putting together a few slides for my short research paper: “The impact of community grassroots campaigns on public library closures in the UK”. Doing so has forced me to delve into my masters thesis again, and has roused some old passions. Here is a quote I included in my work:
“Working men and women in the North East have fought, generation after generation, for the right to read and grow intellectually, culturally and socially. You are not only about to make philistines of yourselves, but philistines of us all”.
Alan Gibbons, Award-winning children’s author and library activist
Hairs on the back of the neck stuff.
Before the general election this year I spoke to a gentleman from East Kilbride. A single-man, and claimant of disability benefits, he has spent much of the last decade confined to life in his high rise flat, due to his partial blindness. He spoke of his fear of further benefit cuts, and his local library (a vital outlet), which was under threat from closure proposals, being shut down. I really felt for him on May 8th.
Make no mistake about it, the fight to save community libraries is the microcosm of a much wider issue, wherein our rights as tax-paying civilians are being unceremoniously hauled from under our feet. We are the victims of an unrelenting, neoliberal ideology, which has us marching backwards to a steady beat of passive aggressive (corporate) political soundbites: “strong economy”, “economic security”, “stability” etc. etc. etc.
The worst thing about it, is that seemingly, the public at large are buying into the deterministic arguments of the ruling class. “Why do we send foreign aid abroad?” “People should work for their benefits”. “I never use public libraries anyway”. It is truly depressing to realise the extent to which people are being manipulated by such austerity rhetoric, without applying some critical thought.
We have a record number of people in this country (the 6th richest in the world, by the way) earning poverty wages. Yes, it is possible in this country, in the 21st century, to work full-time and not earn enough money to feed yourself and your family.
So, in light of this, should we really be forcing (a tiny minority) of people who can’t/won’t work to work in menial jobs for even less than the minimum wage? Shouldn’t there be a focus on raising the miinimum wage in line with that which is needed to survive, and have a reasonable standard of living? Wouldn’t this encourage more people into work? What impact would it have over the course of a generation on employment figures?
And instead of ridding ourselves of vital community services like libraries, we should be doing all that we can to preserve them, and the public property which house them. We pay for these through our hard earned tax money. That is OUR money, NOT David Cameron’s, or any other (Etonian, multi-millionaire politician’s) money. What happens to people who can barely afford to eat or heat their homes, when their local library is taken away, and they have no access to the internet, or any form of leisure and culture? Does this solve society’s problems, or does this deepen the issue? Desperate people render desperate deeds.
Taking away the social security net, and removing community facilities, is a retrogressive step, and one which we should resist before future generation suffer.
These may seem like small issues, but they are slowly trimming away at our quality of life. All the while, the rich get richer.