Effects of the cuts: a first hand experience

Almost every day, when listening to the news, you hear stories about the impact of the cuts to public spending. Frontline services such as the NHS, the police services and schools are being asked to do more and more with less and less money. Whilst, to uphold the ‘will of the people’, cabinet members travel to and from Brussels and swan off to smooze European leaders to deliver the Brexit we deserve… hmm.

We are almost desensitised to the cuts, we hear about them so much. Today, we experienced the impact of the cuts first hand. My wife and I live in a part of Norwich that has two very different communities living side by side. On the 27 June a 19 year old was shot in the back, in a drug related incident, in a park very close to our house. Every day we have people walk past our window who are either under the influence of an illegal substance or who are taking their daily trip to the pharmacy to collect their methadone.

On returning from our walk and stop off for a sneaky half at our local pub, my wife noticed some suspicious activity involving a group of four people and another individual. I urge ‘A’ to call 101. The process to speak to someone was tedious: phone ringing for a long time to reach the switchboard; decision made to connect us to the local constabulary; phone ringing for a long time to eventually to speak to an officer. ‘A’ told the officer everything she witnessed and gave detailed descriptions of the individuals. Everything was logged and a crime reference issued.

The officer then told my wife that she needed to call the local school – the area where the incident happened backs onto a school – in order for them to check their premises for any evidence of drug misuse, as well as they local council in case the area needed cleaning up. ‘A’ questioned why she had to do this. There was been a strong community police presence since the shooting; surely someone could pop by and check this out? The officer apologised and cited ‘cuts to policing’ as the problem.

Why is it our responsibility to make further phone calls to notifying other organisations about the potentially illegal goings on? Surely this convoluted process is only going to deter people from reporting suspicious or antisocial behaviour, not encourage it? It seems a pity that community safety relies upon the integrity of the community members alone, rather than alongside the community police who should be empowered, not redundant.

‘It’s all change for Thomas’

Yesterday, on the way over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for brunch, we picked up the ‘i weekend’ so that we could do the crossword (I realise how awfully middle class that sounds). After failing to complete said crossword I decided to read an article on page 10 that caught my eye; the front page spoiler was titled ‘New gender balanced Thomas the Tank Engine (with UN approval). Link to article –

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/thomas-tank-engine-gender-balanced-female-trains-characters-steam-team-revamp-multicultural-a8517981.html

The article discussed how this much-loved children’s franchise is getting a makeover with a gender balanced team of engines accompanying Thomas on his adventures. I read part of the piece to everyone and this facilitated a discussion about gender stereotypes in children’s books and television programmes. Our nephew, AJ, is nearly two and has started to watch programmes such as Postman Pat; this show has had a multicultural makeover but still has very clearly defined gender roles. My sister-in-law said that the wives of Pat and his colleagues stay at home wearing headscarves and baking whilst the men in the programme save the day. Fireman Sam has female colleagues, although they all have short hair. Now, there is nothing wrong with a woman who decides to stay at home nor a short haired female firefighter but, in most children’s television programmes, there is a lack of representation of choice and, more often that not, the creation of a hierarchy, often based on gender.

In the newspaper article Ann Widdecombe, an unsurprising critic of the more inclusive Thomas The Tank Engine, was quoted as saying ‘Children aren’t interested in these sort of issues’. Well, of course they aren’t! But, just to make sure, we asked my nephew what he thought of ethnic and gender representation in television programmes he watched… his response… ‘elephant’s ear’ – said whilst pointing at the puzzle he was looking at. Typically Widdecombe missed the point and made an utterly irrelevant comment. As a one off, having female carriages in subservient positions being pulled by male engines has no bearing on a child’s understanding of gender roles and balance. However, it is the accumulative that can have a long lasting impact. Of course children will not be ‘interested in these sort of issues’. They are being subconsciously shaped by the choices we make for them; we are moulding their developing perception of gender by the examples we expose them to. Forgive me for being a bit preachy, but this responsibility cannot be overstated, Ann.