It’s what was missing from his rather lean speech that left many of us feeling unfulfilled and hungry for answers.
If you’re into rubbish, it was a feast. It is, apparently, our basic human right to have our bins collected on a weekly basis to avoid rat infestations (surely there’s a new human rights endeavour here for Theresa May’s pesky cats?). Eric is obsessed. He has talked about bins here. And here. And here. And here. He may think he has found the favourite dish of middle England, but it’s starting to appear like an obsession of the over-indulged.
The question is – does it matter one iota in the face of the real crises facing our communities?
If you listened to Pickles’ speech, you’d be forgiven for thinking all councils do is collect rubbish. He claims that this is the only visible contact most people have with local government. Firstly I’d love to know what research backs that up. That would mean most people don’t use libraries, swim, walk cleaned streets, play in parks, shop in local businesses, send their children to local schools or have a family who need care in later life. I just don’t believe that.
No wonder he thinks he can slash local government budgets with such brutality. And I presume that the minority of ‘invisible’ services he thinks are not a priority include those with disabled children, those on incomes or benefits which preclude them from buying or renting homes in the private sector, and vulnerable children who need protection from neglectful or abusive adults.
I find it hard to believe that as Secretary of State he isn’t aware of the impending social care crisis, which is expected to cost £20billion by 2015 as demand rises. The Southern Cross crisis that Ed Miliband highlighted so pertinently has not only shown questions over the viability of the private sector in this industry but also the financial challenge facing this ever-growing service area. Local government is simply going to struggle to meet the growing costs of provision. This is going to mean higher bars set for entitlement, and greater disparity between local areas for what needs get fulfilled. And it’s going to mean more people moving out into private provision as local authorities begin to limit support to all but the most needy. It’s time to revisit Andy Burnham’s National Care Service proposals to ensure minimum standards of care for our parents and grandparents, and to look properly at a sustainable funding solution.
And what of other key issues that got no mention in his speech? What about the fact that looked-after children – those in the caring arms of the state because this is the only protection they have – are at the highest number since 1987? And that a third of them are not in education training or employment when they leave care, with disappointingly high numbers still going on to enter the criminal justice system.
What about the cuts to 3,600 sure starts, the tragic 17% rise in homelessness since this government took power, or the slashing of Supporting People?
What more important issues are there than the way we care for our children, our elderly and our vulnerable? Why weren’t these human crises at the heart of Eric’s speech? Why aren’t they the things keeping him awake at night?
I’m sorry if these real and complex struggles are too difficult for you to digest Mr Pickles, but they are what really matters, and you need a stronger constitution if you are to serve the British public with the dignity your office demands. What a waste.