Saturday 16 February 2013

A tax is the best form of defence

Dave and George those two intellectual super powers running the country keep going on about this “global race” we are in. It’s a very odd way to win this race when our competition the emerging economies are investing their vast resources into schools and libraries. At the same time we are cutting our libraries hard or passing them to the unwilling volunteers or the “Big Society” as it’s called.  Yes we are going through difficult times but there is no way we are going to compete against the rest of the world when increasingly our natural resources are drying up and we are cutting the one thing that according to the OECD research “reading for pleasure was a more important indicator of future success than any socio-economic factors.” So if a young child, denied access to books because of poverty or because the child’s parents are lacking vision then that child isn’t going to raise up the ladder in life, pay lots of tax, create wealth and help us win this so called “global race”. They will not fulfil their potiential in life being a burden on the state and in old age ending up in the adult social care system. You could argue that the chain of events described above is a thin argument, it’s entirely plausible because if I didn’t have access to books growning up I word be in a dead end job and when I’m older would be relying on the state. In Swindon they are slashing library hours to save 99k, in Oxon supposedly 313k. How many kids growing up need to be denied access to books for those “savings” to not be savings at all in the long term? Currently local authorities pay about £500 a week for an old person’s residential care if they cannot pay for it themselves. Two grand a month, per person or 24k a year, for one person. So in Swindon based on today’s figures if the library cuts denied four children access to books, harming their life chances so the council has to end up paying their care in 60 years then they are not making efficiencies at all, they are actually making poor short term cuts that are going to hurt them a lot more later on.

The opponents of libraries trot out that old "books are over" or  "give them a kindle" or "books are really cheap on Amazon". There are a few problems with that:

1.     Kindles may be coming down in cost but the e-books are not free
2.     Libraries also provide space for children to study away from home (very important for some kids sadly)
3.     Books, both paper and electronic are still very expensive to buy.

I had a look on amazon and got the prices for the top ten kids books, both in kindle and paper book format. Below is the books and the figures:

For a poor single parent family or family on benefits I think they would struggle to find £500 quid a year if their two kids were getting through a book a week. It’s probably not a lot of money to most people but if the household is on a low income £20 a week for paper books or £17 for the kindle versions is going to be hard money to find. And getting the kids to actually enjoy reading in the first place is always going to be easier if you put them in a library full of books and letting them browse.

Of course children’s reading is only one aspect of how libraries could help us win the “global race” the job seekers using the Internet to apply for jobs or ordering books for self-study to get a better one, the elderly person whose visits to the library help them to keep active and keep their minds ticking over keeping them out of the 24k a year care system is another saving and will help us win the “global race”
I accept that libraries have to change, paper books are not going to be here forever but the PLR stats show that with children’s reading (despite the cuts so far) on the up, cutting libraries isn’t going to help us win anything, we are just going to be losers.
Back closer to home, Oxfordshire County Council are planning a 1.99% council tax increase. Considering the inflation rate last year was between 5 and 2.3 percent then it isn’t really an increase at all.  I would imagine the council is under massive pressure from Pickles, Cameron and Osborne to not have this “increase” If the extra revenue is ploughed back into services that help educate the minds of children or help keep people out of the expensive care system both now and in the future then it’s something most people I think would support. Labour didn’t put any amendments to the proposed budget, they resolved to write a letter to the government to complain about the cuts, a complete waste of time, what are they there for exactly apart from pontificating?

If the government want to save money and win "the global race" they should #savelibraries. If they want us to be stuck in a stagnant economy with no hope of growth and a ever increasing welfare bill then don't.

The Labour budget "amendment"


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