The first cut is the deepest
December 29, 2011 10:11 AM   Subscribe

This is the story of one cut. Back in October 2010 George Osborne announced £95 billion in cuts to public services, saying he’d leave it to councils to choose what to shut down. Inevitably most of the casualties ended up being unrenowned places, unlikely to stir up much protest - drop-in centers in housing estates, inner-city park rangers, community theatres, etc. I wanted to write about just one of them, about the ripples created by a single closure. I made my selection quite randomly. I chose a place called Youthreach. I didn’t know much about them, only that they offered weekly counseling sessions to young people, aged 11–25, in Greenwich, South East London. Jon Ronson
posted by fearfulsymmetry (16 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
There’s a cold silence. One of the volunteer counselors explains that many of them had, as children, been helped by places like Youthreach, and now their chance to do the same for others is being snatched away from them.
I log onto Youthreach’s website. It reads ‘Not Found – 404’. Then the emails start coming in.


Can't say "nice post"... but I'm glad this story was written and I'm glad to be reading it.

posted by infini at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thing that puzzled me is that...the former patients Jon Ronson picked to interview all seemed, by the end of the article, to be...pretty much okay. Not saying this makes him wrong, mind you -- only that I have a fear that the fiscal conservatives would read this and say "Oh, well, see there? You really didn't need that program anyway, they all got themselves together and are fine now!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2011

conservatives would read this and say

If it does work, end it.
posted by Mblue at 10:27 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

About a third of a way through the quoted material I started reading it in Ira Glass's voice, and then was quite surprised when "This" didn't like to This American Life.
posted by I Havent Killed Anybody Since 1984 at 10:28 AM on December 29, 2011

Actually, Jon Ronson has done several segments that were made for TAL or re-used on TAL from his own UK programs. So you weren't far off.
posted by Wylla at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2011

It was interesting, but many may miss the point. So many of these folks were able to put themselves together after Youthreach closed, not because they didn't need it, but because while it was open, Youthreach taught them the skills they needed to deal with their issues.

Therapy is subtle, and while after something major happens, like your counseling service closes and your therapist/counselor moves on, you may be depressed, or stressed out about it, after a few weeks, you employ the skills you were taught and things become better.

These folks may or may not have improved on their own, but the fact that they got (apparently fairly good counseling) probably increased their chances of doing so.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:43 AM on December 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

This hits really close to home for me. Up until May of this year I had been working in a nonprofit adolescent health clinic that had been around for >25 years. The patients were mostly low-income and had no place else to go for affordable health care. We did primary care medical (lots of sexual health stuff, as you might expect) and mental health, along with the preventive health education I was responsible for. There was a change of leadership--the board didn't prepare well for the transition. Three months reserve cash in the bank, and exactly three months in, they gave us three days notice that they were going to close the organization entirely. Three days. The board just kind of decided they didn't want to deal with the tricky balance of keeping a nonprofit afloat in tough times, even though they had the means. It wasn't a funding problem, it was a cashflow one. They just bailed. On all those kids. No notice.

posted by Stewriffic at 11:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

It seems typical that the services that get lost are those that help "the walking wounded;" people who need help but are too functional to get triaged into normal therapy channels (or those for whom the choices seem to be no assistance or incarceration). This seems like an absolutely backward way to approach things.

I have a friend who used to do a lot of homeless advocacy (until he lost his job...). One of his projects was housing homeless people in houses seized by the city. The project did not cost much, the houses were inhabited and getting minimal (or, sometimes, moderate) upkeep by the ex-homeless, social services people were more efficient since they now had addresses for their clients, and the police supported the program because it markedly reduced nuisance crimes and fewer jail costs. The program was, naturally, cut due to budget shortages, despite the fact that it showed a net savings during its trial period.... There's some fiscal responsibility for you!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

There was a bit of nasty, trolly controversy on twitter when this was posted in the afternoon. Which was disappointing. I think what I like most about Jon Ronson's writing is how he seems to strike the balance between personal involvement and ambivalence about the subject matter. Or something like that, he invests himself in it a lot but seems in deep doubt about it. I'm sure he's on the side of keeping places like this open but this piece feels unnatural because it's unusual for a piece like this not to descend into overt propaganda or point scoring as I think most media outlets would use it.

A friend of mine was recently told he would have to wait 8 months for counselling for anxiety through the NHS. I've had better experience but the services are clearly pushed to the limits and I can't really articulate how useful even the reduced help I've had from services similar to this have been for me.
posted by pmcp at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Councils hoarding more cash despite spending cuts
"New figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government will today reveal that local authorities are likely to have £10.8 billion in reserves by March – an increase of around £240 million on the previous year.

Councils are advised to keep sufficient sums of money in reserve so that they have a financial cushion to meet sudden unexpected costs. But the extent of the cash piles may cast doubt on complaints by some local councils that they must make deep cuts to public service and cannot afford to freeze council tax....

Soon after the Coalition came to power, Mr Pickles urged local authorities to dig into their 'piggy banks' as more than 50 were holding more than £50 million in their bank accounts."
posted by Houstonian at 12:00 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cutting these programs is going to be a net loss. Eventually the problems these programs are meant to deal with will have to be dealt with. It will be more expensive and painful to deal with it later.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wonder if - by relying on the people with the energy or whathaveyou to email him - he didn't self-elect for the people most likely to have positive results.

Interesting story. Thanks for posting it.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I remember reading an article sometime around the election at what austerity will actually mean in practical terms to the average person, the ones that don't by and large need help from the state. They or someone they know may loose their job if they work in the public sector or a company that supplies them... but generally things will carry on much as they would before. At first anyway. But then, gradually, you'll notice things just starting to get a bit shabbier when buildings are not redecorated when they should be and the parks will start to look overgrown as budgets are squeezed. But also, as this article hints, people will start to fall though the ever widening gaps in care, and we probably won't notice these until it is too late (see Greece for that, with a big jump in the suicide rate and more and more people havig to put their kids into care)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:13 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

we probably won't notice these until it is too late

Then again... Antidepressant use in England soars
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:31 PM on December 30, 2011

Then again... Antidepressant use in England soars

Please bear in mind that this is a report on an increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants, not an survey of their use. This can be caused by a number of factors - for example, if doctors are prescribing smaller amounts of tablets at a time to try and avoid overdoses. For more detail, Ben Goldacre has links and information on proper analysis/study of such figures as these.
posted by BigYesh 2 at 5:31 PM on December 30, 2011

I'm pretty biased here, as I was made redundant by this current government as part of their broader programme of cuts (I worked for one of those nasty quangos, obviously responsible for all the economic woes of the country as we were creating jobs, regenerating large tracts of contaminated land, funding training, providing grants to industry to help it compete in an increasingly global marketplace, helping to regenerate town and city centres - all the bad stuff, really) at the end of September.

One of my main issues is that Gideon and his chums are merrily cutting away at the public sector and loudly expecting the private sector to take up the slack by creating jobs to meet the newly created need in the public sector (talk about a vicious circle) but don't seem to have made the connection between a) the close links between the public and private sectors, such that cutting funding to one will disable their ability to buy in services and goods from the other and b) as a result of this and the economic slump we're still in, the private sector will not in any case be generating the sorts of numbers of new jobs Gideon has bruited about previously.

I was talking to a friend a good year ago who works in a similar field to my own but in the private sector and I mentioned the government's ideas about the private sector picking up the public sector jobs - he just shook his head and said his firm had just had a 10% job cut because they weren't getting the work in from the public sector any more. We're being drowned in this government's bloody-minded incompetence every which way.

And as for Mr Pricklepants, Erik the Fed, Lord of all Weebles ... he (allegedly) is none too sharp and quite unpleasant, according to the grapevine; having practised by ruining Bradford, he got the chance to do the same thing on a much larger scale and thus is perfectly suited to being a ConDem (read - minority Tory government) cabinet minister in charge of funding affecting the lives and environment of real people in the real world. When he's not being patronised by his own party (Guardian piece from earlier this year) he is laying waste to the communities and local government he is supposedly meant to be rep[resenting in Cabinet. Even Liam Fox put up a better fight against the Treasury for Defence than Public Chum Number One did. And that's saying something.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:43 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

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