In a packed Methodist Church on Thursday night, Churches Together Around Ludlow launched their latest report on troubles facing Ludlow. The report gives great credit to the community volunteers who are working hard to mitigate the impact of cuts, but offered no support for Shropshire Council’s approach in hard times.

Ludlow_under_pressureLudlow under continuing pressure: hope in troubled times? is a follow up to Ludlow under pressure, published in 2012. That earlier report talked about the troubles facing many families and individuals in our town, especially those on low incomes. The authors’ thesis was that the state and society were at times failing vulnerable people. Writing about that report at the time, I asked the question: “If not the churches, who?“:

“If it’s not the state – and national government and many local councils seem increasingly disinterested – if it’s not charities – and many are stretched beyond the limits of their resources – then who will take up the cause for those that are poor, jobless, old or infirm? In Ludlow at least, that crusade is set to be taken up the churches.”

The churches have taken up that crusade and the report outlines volunteer initiatives that are growing across Ludlow and the surrounding area. But the churches recognise that while volunteers can achieve a great deal, no matter how hard they strive, they can’t replace professionally based services.

The Continuing Pressure report gives the blunt message:

“The situation is getting critical. The country cannot depend on continuing growth to fund ever-improving benefits and standards of living. Higher levels of unemployment, longer life expectancy, and heavy demands on the NHS and other welfare provisions are forcing a review of the way in which services are provided. In such a situation, the needs of the most vulnerable can be overlooked.”

On Shropshire Council the report says:

“We have tried to be fair to Shropshire Council… but it would be irresponsible not to express our deep concern about what is happening in our county… The Council, which had an honourable record of civic pride with a commitment to the vulnerable members of society, has chosen to become a business enterprise. The way in which those private businesses operate will, inevitably, have the greatest impact on elderly frail people, people with disabilities, children and young people in difficulty, and families who are struggling on a low income.”

Addressing Thursday’s meeting, the report’s main contributors tried to strike a positive tone. Mike Beasley said:

“Our [first] report stirred people up to get involved. To find new ways of doing them. There are lots of skills out there. It’s a question of mobilising that skill.”

In a passionate presentation, Sir Michael Day regretted the loss of cross-party support for the welfare state and said:

“If [churches] stand accused of playing politics, that’s not the first time for the churches. We make no apologies… It is a sad day when commercial interests invade the public sector… There is no fall-back position if commercialised services fail.”

Michael said youth services are going to out to tender. People’s outrage at this is justified. He warned: “Investing in youth is vital for a civilised society.” He said there is disturbing evidence of a widening gulf between the rich and the poor making “a mockery” of the prime minister’s commitment that: “We are all in this together”. He cautioned that there will be very tough times ahead as cuts bite deeper and that volunteers can’t fill the gap left by withdrawal of public services. To applause he said:

“We must ensure that it’s not just the fittest and more privileged that survive.”

Neil Richardson summed up. He warned that next April is a truly critical date for youth services: “So few people seem aware of the impending situation.” He said:

“Ludlow can say that we are all in this together. We are all in the same place. There is enormous pressure to look the other way. Let’s not look the other way. We need to cast off despair, the feeling there is nothing we can do. Ludlow can become a model of what can be achieved where a community pulls together. We can do something. Immediate and local things.”

Complaining that the poor are treated as “scroungers”, he said:

“There are real questions our county, councillors and community have to face. The poor are likely to be forgotten. They are disadvantaged. It’s always been a rich person’s world, but that’s not fair or ethical.”

“How do we get more people to volunteer?” Neil asked as he strove to end on a note of hope. Citing Proverbs 29:18, he told the audience:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish. Concentrating on the bottom line does not add up to a vision.”

You can obtain a copy of Ludlow under continuing pressure from the Methodist Church.

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