Dave Watson: Councils are vital part of cradle to grave care

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Of the 62,000 jobs lost across public services in Scotland since 2009, 40,000 have been in local councils. That’s 40,000 fewer people working for you: clearing up after you, caring for your elderly relatives, looking after and educating your children, keeping you healthy, and keeping you safe.

Joni Mitchell sang: “You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone”, which seems apt as councils are bracing themselves for thousands more job losses, possibly half as much again.

Before we blame our dastardly politicians we should look closer to home. Even in my school days we’d say “who cut your hair mate, the council?” It’s unlikely our politicians will change spending decisions until we change our attitudes to the council.

Our NHS is rightly loved; its budgets are politically protected because the NHS is part of our identity and we all use it. Councils should be equally so. Council services touch our lives every day and are as much part of our tradition of great public reform.

Our rubbish is recycled, our streets are swept, our dustbins emptied, and schools and nurseries open, and social care workers visit thousands in their homes getting them dressed, fed, and looked after.

Council services save lives. Councils introduced sewerage services because they do as much to combat disease as any medicine or vaccination programme. Cholera was beaten by clean water. Getting people into decent affordable homes was crucial in defeating TB. Medical advances deliver effective treatments, but stopping people getting ill in the first place comes from decent living conditions. And it’s cost effective.

The present problem of so called “bed blocking” in our hospitals will be solved through increased investment in our councils’ social care services.

An ageing population is the public policy concern of our generation. Councils need to prepare now, instead they are withering under brutal cuts, and we are heading towards a social care crisis. Even Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne got this when he announced two per cent council tax flexibility for councils in England, as long as they spend it on social care.

Councils are worth saving. Our forefathers worked out that a local 
and democratic collective response to the big issues of the day benefited us all.

And you know what? In the end there’s no avoiding it: We all die and need a funeral. Yes, that’s right, the council deal with this one too. And sorry to tell you, because of the brutal council cuts like most essential council services, funeral costs are rising.

Council services support our health and well-being from cradle to grave. They are crucial to our way of life. Unison is calling on the Scottish Government to hold an emergency task force to look at the future of local government in Scotland.

Remember that Joni Mitchell song; let’s show that we know what we’ve got and get-up, stand-up for your council.

• Dave Watson is head of bargaining and campaigns at Unison Scotland