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Friday, 12 April 2013

Legacy of marketisation, privatisation, economic stratification and social dislocation

In considering the continuing divisive effect of Margaret Thatcher's legacy and funeral, it is worth reminding ourselves of what was said about Britain in the Faith in the City report published by the Church of England during Margaret Thatcher's second term of office.

As is noted on the Church of England's website, the Commission which produced this report met during what was the first half of Margaret Thatcher's second term of office as Prime Minister:

"There had been little explicit policy change during her first term in office regarding urban regeneration. What the report designated as 'Urban Priority Areas' did however feel the harsh impact of other policies as unemployment increased, public spending and taxation were reduced and a change in approach to the welfare state was initiated. The policies which put the market to the fore were beginning to take effect: it was claimed that the 'slump years' were over as inflation was reduced and privatisation caught the public imagination. Many of the problems highlighted stemmed from changes in society which could be associated with the demise of traditional industry. Other factors identified included estate design; institutional racism; poor quality housing; and lack of investment in educational and social services."

What the report says was actually far more damning than the above sounds:

"We have to report that we have been deeply disturbed by what we have seen and heard. We have been confronted with the human consequences of unemployment, which in some urban areas may be over 50 per cent of the labour force, and which occasionally reaches a level as high as 80 per cent - consequences which may be compounded by the effects of racial discrimination. We have seen physical decay, whether of Victorian terraced housing or of inferior system-built blocks of flats, which has in places created an environment so degrading that some people have set fire to their own homes rather than be condemned to living in them indefinitely. Social disintegration has reached a point in some areas that shop windows are boarded up, cars cannot be left on the street, residents are afraid either to go out themselves or to ask others in, and there is a pervading sense of powerlessness and despair ... It is our considered view that the nation is confronted by a grave and fundamental injustice in the UPAs. The facts are officially recognised, but the situation continues to deteriorate and requires urgent action. No adequate response is being made by government, nation or Church. There is barely even widespread public discussion."

As Gary Younge notes in today's Guardian, Margaret Thatcher's "is a living legacy of marketisation, privatisation, economic stratification and social dislocation." Her policies caused "a grave and fundamental injustice" in society at the time and continue to do so today.

My father, Phil Evens, was in ordained ministry during this part of this period setting up The Voice of the People Trust to sponsor Christian ministry in Urban Priority Areas through community work projects linked to parishes and the Aston and Newtown Community Youth Project which was particularly successful in reaching out to young people on the streets and steering them away from criminal and anti-social activities towards further education, training, employment and faith. His third book, Despair and Hope in the City, published in this period explored the relevance of community work to urban ministry. 

What follows is an account of a dream that my father had in the early morning after the 1987 General Election:
After watching the early election results, I went to bed at 3.00 a.m. and had the following dream ...
I dreamt that an elderly but important relative had died. In my dream I found myself outside the house they had lived in. It was quite small. All its furniture and possessions had been brought out lining the nearby streets and overflowing into a large warehouse type building. There was an amazing amount of furniture, bric-a-brac and general family possessions, from such a small house.
Many well dressed, upright looking relatives and, any people who had any conceivable connection with the family, had come from everywhere. They were moving around the furniture, lining the streets, pulling out drawers and taking anything they fancied. When I came near anyone they all looked as though they were politely looking on. As I went around, in my dream, I became increasingly concerned and bewildered at what was happening. No one seemed to be around to control or stop this.
In the warehouse type building the furniture and possessions were stacked on raised walkways. Here, some people, mainly young people, rushed off when they saw me coming and hid. One fell off the edge in the rush and I managed to reach out and draw him back to safety.
As I moved around this enormous collection of family possessions I found thrust into my hands a large glass container, beautifully made, into which had been put a few valuable family treasures - some small pieces of silver and a number of flat packs of what seemed like old one pound notes. I felt an increasing sense of distress at what was happening.
On waking up the dream remained vivid and the following thoughts immediately came to mind ...
The old relative who had died was the nation of Great Britain, and the small house was the United Kingdom. The nation's real wealth and assets, that had been a vital part of this small house and its family life, had been plundered by the well-dressed, polite and, in appearance, respectable people who, inside, had been rapacious and greedy. This wealth had now been dissipated and was no longer available for the home or its family life. I felt a deep sense of sadness and loss.
The interpretation of the dream was concluded by a picture of the Monarchy and the Royal Family. They were the only possession that the patriotic poor, the deprived, the dispossessed, now had that linked them into the life of the nation. Everything else of worth had been taken away from them and now belonged to the rich and powerful.
The final thought that came to me, was that I wouldn't wish to be in the shoes of Margaret Thatcher or her cabinet members for 'all the tea in China'. She, and her Government, had been weighed in the balance and found wanting.


Elvis Costello - Tramp The Dirt Down.

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