Opinion

Paul McNamee: When the going gets tough, the crowd gets going

In the teeth of a financial superstorm of uncertainty, there is a desire to give away more income

What’s that coming over the hill? That big thing that few people are talking about. That, oh that’s just hundreds and hundreds of millions more in council funding cuts, set to slam everybody, but particularly kids’ services and those who need help most.

The £1bn in savings will come next year, said council chiefs last week. They announced this with a cheery ‘the worst is yet to come’ message.

None of this is really a surprise, of course. We’ve seen the hollowing-out of local services for years now. However, the fact that it’s going to get worse is chilling. In normal times, there might be governmental action. But in our post-austerity Brexit-neverland this information passes by with barely a glance.

Is the solution putting up council taxes to plug the gap? No, surely not. I mean, who wants to be clobbered with MORE taxes? That’s a big fat no-no.

But hold on there. The number of Britons who want increased levels of taxes to spend and help grow the economy has doubled since 2010. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, 60 per cent of Britons say they’re for higher taxes. That’s the highest it’s been for 15 years, since the New Labour machine was showing the positive side of governmental investment.

This may come as a surprise. In the teeth of a financial superstorm of uncertainty, there is a desire to give away more income.

But the signs have been out there. And we don’t have to look hard to find them. People want to be helpful. They see problems around them, and rather than selfishly pull down the shutters there is an instinct to make better.

The rise in the crowdfunding phenomenon is surely a by-product of our straitened times. It allows us to have some control when the normal levers are broken.

Take the example of the crowdfunded initiatives to get Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ incredible The Lost Words book into primary schools across Britain. It was a simple clear intention. But the people who backed this campaign were not just buying a book, they were not just plugging funding gaps, they were firing imaginations, preventing the poverty of ideas. They were acting to build for the future.

People want to be helpful. They see problems around them, and rather than selfishly pull down the shutters there is an instinct to make better

Such initiatives have agency. This week we learn of a similar plan. A number of authors have crowdfunded to buy copies of a book about a child refugee. They are planning to send this to a great number of MPs to force them to rethink current government policy on unaccompanied child refugees being stopped from coming here.

Two small examples but indicative of a clear shift among a growing number in society who understand that backs are up against the wall. Rather than crumple, they’re uniting.

It’s not clear if Philip Hammond will heed the growing evidence and up taxes in the Autumn Budget. There is a need to show that the money taken is placed somewhere to positively benefit everybody. A small rise in the higher tax rate in Scotland is facing similar questions.

But amid the gloom there is a light of decency from people who want to fix and grow. This this a growing glow.

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