I was talking to a fireman this week, who is concerned about the next round of severe cuts to the fire service. Here in Perth that means potentially one less fire engine to serve the city, and the cuts are similarly draconian across the country. Our fire services don’t face cuts because of a lack of demand. In fact, with wildfires, hotter daytime and night-time temperatures and the increased risk of extreme flooding, if anything the demand is only likely to increase. The Fire Service, along with almost all public services, is being cut because politicians simply refuse to find the money to properly fund it. Whilst putting up taxes is viewed universally as a vote-loser, are we really happy watching as all of our public services decay in front of our eyes? Far from being an isolated case, the fire service is just the latest service to be facing yet more stringent ‘savings’.

There are so many examples. In fact, I’m struggling to think of any exceptions. Keeping any organisation afloat during this past decade has been incredibly challenging and is not getting any easier. The NHS even now are being asked to find yet more millions in savings. There are continuing cuts to the police, and its support services, with reports already of a lack of traffic police and camera operators. Every council (and a huge number of public and charitable institutions) are at or near financial breaking point, with Birmingham City Council being the latest to report near bankruptcy. Yet every one of our local authorities is struggling to balance budgets and having to work out which essential services to cut this year. And whilst Councils are not always efficient in every department, we are well past the point of ‘trimming the fat’. We are now well and truly into deciding which of our limbs to lop off. Swimming pools, arts and leisure facilities are being shut down, as they have become unaffordable. Schools and public buildings have been built with cheap concrete and are not safe to use and were already chronically underfunded.

Having been on the board of several organisations in different sectors, I know these cuts are being faced across every facet of society, and are simply the latest in a 15 year period of continual cuts, made worse by Brexit and Covid. That’s why our roads aren’t in great condition. That’s why our trains don’t run well and break down. That’s why the NHS is continually in crisis. That’s why opening times for public facilities are reducing. That’s why the emergency services are over stretched. That’s why more and more people are struggling, and those that can afford to cannot wait to retire.

Meanwhile poverty is increasing, costs are spiralling upwards, and life is getting harder. In a recent lecture by Professor Danny Dorling at the RSE, he highlighted that only 5% of the population have been getting wealthier over the past decade, whilst 95% of us have been getting poorer. And those of us in work, are being asked to work harder and harder and for less and less reward. That’s why we feel like we are chasing our tails more and more, but still struggling to afford everything. If we don’t start looking after people better throughout society, and reduce inequality, we are going to see more and more dissent and unrest as people baulk at the injustice of it all. Somehow, we need to find more funding.

Many organisations, like my own, make great efforts to remain politically impartial, but in this divisive age we find ourselves in, we have to be careful we don’t accidentally slip into becoming morally indifferent or impartial. Deepening poverty and the financial and environmental crises are factual observations and speak to our deeper morality and humanity, not just short term political preferences.

Since Government decided on a plan of austerity, following the bank crash in 2008, we have been gradually asset stripping Britain, running services into the ground, cutting corners, postponing basic maintenance and repairs, and kicking everything into the long grass to be dealt with later. Unfortunately, it is later, and things are starting to break and fall apart.

We are supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world, but we certainly don’t act like it. We need to be aware that these cracks and strains are in every field of life. Our society is creaking. We need to prove we care, by funding things that matter and make a difference to people’s lives, and that begins with our public and health services. We need to find ways to start funding them again and stop trying to cut them to the bone and beyond. We don’t just need to make up for 15 years of decline and increasing inequality, but we also urgently need to invest in a more just, more sustainable, more robust and ultimately safe future for every one of us. Surely that is something worth investing in.

If we don’t start challenging some of these relentless cuts and make some different choices about funding public services, we are simply going to watch as they gradually fall apart, taking some of the very fabric of society with them, whilst we are left squabbling over who gets the little remaining, and railing at the injustice of it all. If it isn’t the fire service, the NHS, the police, our Local Authorities, or our schools that we decide to stand up for, then when are we going to choose better? I already sense we are at breaking point. It’s time for some new ideas!