As I prepared for the second leg of the ‘Care at Christmas’ campaign, I was staggered by some of the statistics that I came across.
The Government's favourite phrase that “We are all in this together!” has been the source of much contention over the past eighteen months. The truth is, Barnsley is a town that is amongst the first into a recession and amongst the last out. For ordinary men and women it is simply not true to suggest that we are being hit equally as hard as the men and women of Witney, the Prime Minister’s afluent constituency.
Charity shops are feeling the full effect of the Government's programme of the deepest cuts in living memory. As I spoke to staff in the Barnsley Hospice and British Heart Foundation shops today I was reminded that, not only are we extremely fortunate in our town to have some amazingly dedicated people, but there is a resilience about them.
We live in very difficult financial times; more people unemployed, a fight to raise aspiration amongst our young people in the face of trebling tuition fees and fewer jobs, and less money to spend on our families. And yet, these shops are optimistic about the continued contribution that they can make to people, far less fortunate than us, and for the good causes they support.
It was inspiring to see.
We need to keep these inspiring people in our charity shops because they offer our community so much. In the last year and a half, over 26,000 people working in the charity sector have lost their jobs. This is unaceptable, because we cannot afford to lose this talent and dedication.
Such statistics add weight to the argument that Cameron’s programme of cuts is in fact an ideological battle. We know that the Tories think everyone should be in it for themselves and that each individual has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In Barnsley, we know that isn’t the reality for the most vulnerable in our society.
The Tories may talk of a "Big Society" but in Barnsley we know that the amongst the heart of our communities lies the charity shops I visited today, and with the numerous staff and volunteers who are now facing a very difficult new year. The Tory Big Society is a myth, and a mask to hide their cuts. Dreamed up on a whiteboard in No 10 Downining Street by people who are out of touch from the hardships experienced by normal working people. Our Barnsley society - a good and fair society has been here for decades.
Many of the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged are all dependent on charity shops to help make their lives more comfortable. Whether it's a coat and gloves this Christmas so that people are warm, or providing a person with poor sight a CD to listen to music, charity shops make real differences to real people. I will never forget that.
So, in conclusion, if you are struggling to buy someone special a Christmas gift, then I would strongly recommend a trip to the local charity shops. If you have unwanted presents, or a pile of clothes, shoes, DVDs or even furniture, take it to your local charity- they're in desperate need of stock.
Next week, I will visit the Barnsley Hospital and the Barnsley Hospice before Christmas day. On Saturday, I said thank you to our Town's care workers as I presented a special Christmas show on We Are Barnsley. It was a fantastic show and we had a great response from people right across the Town. The podcast will now be beamed out to our troops serving in Afghanistan which I know from my own experience, will mean a lot to them.
Thanks for your support this week.
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