“Libraries? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
“Forests and woodlands? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
“Education fees? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
Who gives a monkey’s about the stuff that’s nothing to do with you? Huh? The stuff that might put a strain on your local services budget but that won’t impact on your life in the slightest?
“Oh no! Not another one banging on about the libraries!” I hear you cry.
Well, no, not exactly. I think the library closures are symptomatic of something bigger, of community apathy, of failure to see the bigger picture.
I don’t walk in forests – I don’t live near any. I don’t use libraries often – the nearest one is tiny and miles away, we can afford books, Internet access, printers, encyclopaedias and I have had time over the years to read and share books with my children at home. I have also never needed a special care baby unit, I have so far never needed the fire brigade, a coast guard, a special needs teacher, a nursing home, I pay for my own education (with the Open University), I don’t live in a council house, I don’t need free transport, free school meals, I – so far – have never needed the local domestic abuse services or mental health services.
What’s more, we used to live in a house where there were no street lights for miles, no pavements, the roads were neglected, the refuse and recycling collections were insufficient, it was a helluva long way to the nearest police station, secondary school, hospital, there was no public transport whatsoever.
There are a lot of services I have paid for but never used.
But I still paid my taxes, happy to support local services and I’m not happy to see even the ones I don’t use underfunded or removed.
You see I want all these things to exist and carry on being supported. I want to live in and be part of a society where different people with their individual needs can survive and know that there are safety nets in place for when needs change.
If you are wealthy and can pay for private education or if you don’t have children why should you care about mainstream education or children’s services?
You should care because well-looked after, supported, appreciated young children become the teenagers that hang out in out towns, the builders, plumbers, teachers, doctors, surgeons, lawyers, politicians, nurses, bin men and community support workers who care for us throughout our lives and into our old age and provide the backbone of the country. Neglected, uninspired children will have less to give back and it won’t be their fault that they find it harder to care. They might not be your children but they will become your problem.
If you are under forty and live in a predominately young trendy city area why should you care about old people having a hip replacements, eye care, home help, meals on wheels? Well, one day we – and our loved ones will all be ill or old. We won’t live forever. All old people were young once and contributed to society, they deserve our support.
If you are retired and live in a quaint village in Dorset surrounded by predominantly old people why should you care about infertility treatment, childcare, maternity services, nursery schools? Because you should want those that come after you to have a decent life, to not be bullied, to have at least as good an education as you did and to keep the cycle of care going.
You should care about stuff you can’t directly relate to because you can quite simply see how it matters elsewhere. Things in life that we don’t all use benefit others. We should care about that. Shouldn’t we?
Well. I don’t know about you. But I care. I want the little 90-year-old woman – whom I will never meet – in Cumbria to be warm enough this winter. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for her through my taxes.
I want the young couple in Bournemouth who have been desperately trying for a baby for eight years – and whom I will never meet – to have infertility treatment and not be part of an NHS postcode lottery. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for them through my taxes.
I want the baby born in Norfolk last week – that I will never meet – to snuggle up and breastfeed with his mother for as long as they both want to and to have help from the midwife and health visitor when it doesn’t come easily. I want the new mother to be able to afford to stay with her baby as long as she needs to and not be forced back into work until she is ready. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for them through my taxes.
I want every town, village and city in the country to have access to enough GPs, mental health services, police stations, books, training schemes, schools with smaller classes and well-trained teachers…. I’ll stop before this sounds like a party political broadcast!
It’s not a utopian vision. I’m not that naïve. But money in the right places saves pouring money into the wrong places to put things right afterwards.
I don’t want public places to become privately owned so that people don’t feel free and equal. I don’t want libraries closed down so that old people, children and poor people can’t get access to books, a quiet place to work, freedom and the Internet. I don’t want support systems necessary to human decency and well being, whipped out from under the feet of vulnerable people so that they become desperate, suicidal, hungry, cold, open to abuse – even if they live miles away and I never have to see them!
We live in a society where people’s needs and habits can be very different from our own.
We should care.
Things that have been put in place are being eroded, removed and cancelled. People will suffer. Many of us will suffer indirectly from having services, rights and amenities gradually eroded so that our communities slowly become less pleasant places to live and we may not be able to put our finger on what exactly went wrong.
Don’t just support the things you can relate to. Empathise and see what others need too.
Save all of it.
Freedom. Education. Access to information. Choices. These are some of the most important things that everyone should have a right to in this country in order to stand a better chance of gaining social mobility and independence. Take the routes to these rights away and you are left with more people trapped in poverty with fewer life choices and increasing numbers of people needing support and benefits that they’d rather not be relying on.
Here’s what I’ve heard people say about saving libraries today:
The library is a precious resource for non-privileged people who want to learn. These are the LAST people we should let down. #savelibraries
Having seen the excitement on Third World children’s faces to be given a single book, we should treasure our luck and #savelibraries
god knows where id be without libraries. i owe my sanity to bristol central library. im not even joking. #savelibraries
Support #savelibraries My children wouldn’t be where they are today without them. Fact. 2 in university 1 in college 3 flying high at school
My elderly father is about to take his first step into the world of computers through a course at his beloved local library #savelibraries
so many writers owe their careers to libraries. They offer respite, and resources, where no one else can #savelibraries
“Those Saturday mornings when I escaped from the house and entered those oases (we lived in several different places) smelling of wood and paper and, oh, centuries of wisdom and dreams which in turn could transport you to a possibility-filled future… In the library you were no longer the eleven-, thirteen-year-old daughter of, sister of, pupil of… You felt part, however novice, of a vast intellectual and creative community. It gave me a sense of my right to belong to that community which otherwise, in spite of my parents’ encouragement, I may never have had…” Writer, Elizabeth Baines.
Getting rid of libraries or cutting funding and running them into the ground is just a taster of how nasty public cuts can get.
Those of us who have been apathetic about politics in the past, I think it’s time for us to get off the fence and start talking and paying attention. Show that we care.