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March 21, 2013 11:26 pm
Terry Chamberlain, a jocular Thurrock man, has worked for the local council for the past 17 years. “I’ve been around. I’ve been on street cleaning, I’ve been on bins and in parks. I’ve done blue and white-collar work.”
He says it has always felt like the local authorities’ finances were under pressure. But the scythe has been sharpened, with Thurrock council set to lose more than a third of its grant.
“Housing offices are being closed, libraries are being closed. So far, in Thurrock we’ve tried to lose jobs by natural wastage. But it’s only the beginning,” he says in his office in the 1950s council flats in South Ockendon where he works as a caretaker.
Mr Chamberlain is a local representative for Unison, the public sector union, and describes the atmosphere among council workers as “fearful”. “There’s apathy – people are frightened, so they’re keeping their head down. But I think this is a time when we’ve got to be a bit more bold and stand up for our jobs and conditions.”
He has also noticed a rise in anti-social behaviour from council tenants, especially the young, as cuts result in delays in repair jobs. “People see you as the front line of the local authority . . . They see us as part of the establishment,” he says. “Some people are going into housing offices and being abusive. They shouldn’t be acting like that, but these are frustrated people.”
He views high levels of public debt as a poor excuse for cuts. “Just after the war we were meant to be broke. But we developed the welfare state, built social housing. We’re supposed to be more affluent now, but we can’t afford anything,” he says. “Local government was a civilising aspect in the past, providing things like municipal swimming pools . . . municipal libraries. And now they’re being closed. We’re going backwards.”
He said George Osborne had left “a few crumbs on the table” for the lowest-paid, such as the expansion of the personal tax allowance to £10,000. “But [the Budget] protected the rich people, as usual.”
He thought the chancellor’s housing measures too small to tackle housing need. “I would like a social housing programme of investment.”
As a beer drinker, he considers the 1p off a pint “a little sweetener”. “When you measure everything else up it cancels it out. Wages are falling behind and the cost of living is rising.”
Additional reporting by Chris Tighe
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