Getting priorities right

The sights of social letdown are around us. Just see how the number of people being made homeless seems to be increasing. But why is the problem not dealt with? The simple answer is that because there is a shortage of funding. It all comes down to money. But the trail goes deeper and higher up than you think. When there is a shortage of money coming into the country, then there are less taxes, and consequently less money for public provision. The situation that you see on the street, however unfortunate, is because the local authority does not have the money to step in and intervene for the better. And the fact that you have to step in reflects a breach of the social contract between the government and its citizens.

Governments raise money through taxes. And through these, they pledge to pay for public services. How local authorities choose to spend the money of course is their choice. Some may choose to spend it on fancy computers. Some may opt to spend it on services for younger people. Some may choose to spend it on the elderly and provision for such people. Others may choose to spend it on working adults. All local authorities do in all likelihood spend it to cover a wide breadth of the population as much as possible, so that everyone benefits – but the reasons for doing so are not as altruistic as you might think. It is more for the sake of gaining votes coming local election time, so that would-be councillors can point to the £100 donation that they spent on the local nursing home and then crow in some publicity poster and website about how committed they are to ensuring that the local elderly population has access to services it needs, and the provision that they are making for the elderly in order that they may live good lives.

The situation on the ground is more obvious. An improvement? Not much will appear to have been done, it seems. But it is buying political clout for election time, and making little provisions that allow, on the face of things, for local authorities to be seen to be doing things is what matters. Repeat the small dwindling sums of money for other services, such as children’s libraries – perhaps another £100 donation to the local library. What do you get? A mention on the local website that “XXX council invested in the library and contributed a percentage of local revenue for the furthering of education of the future generation.” The words are longer than the value provided.

Money talks. Unfortunately, that is the case. Money gives you spending power, freedom and control over life. And a good life skill to learn is to work to accumulate it first rather than to become a spendthrift. Maybe we should take a leaf out of the classical composer Rossini‘s book, who made his fortune writing operas such that by the age of thirty seven he could comfortably retire. (Unlike Mozart, who had died penniless.) But we should also counsel our local authorities to spend finances more astutely, focussing on the human element instead of the social media and PR element. Just remember, the website may look good, but it is the human living out on the street that matters.