If you walk around Newport long enough, you’re sure to hear a few buzzwords or catchphrases. The first, prevalent amongst older women, is “ridiculous” (pronoucned ‘ree-dik-lus’) which is used to describe anything from a shop being closed to a late bus. The younger kids, usually between 13 and 18 generally manage a gutteral, almost primal “oh” to greet friends, enemies and, in some cases, potential victims of a mugging or assault. There’s also the ever growing phrase which, though it can vary, always has the same meaning and that’s the chant of the beggars, ringing through the centre, volumous as they are; “Have you got 26p for the bus?”. Occassionally, I’ll be asked for spare change but usually these days there is some cock and bull story rather than something akin to truth.
Another phrase, mainly doing the rounds on social media at the moment is “Enough is enough”. Normally, I would suggest that people are being overly dramatic but in this case I think that phrase is warranted. In the last few years there has been a sharp rise in the level of homeless people openly living in the city centre, surrounded by their belongings and increasinly living in tents, an increase in ‘fake’ beggars who, at the end of a long day begging and often taking drugs or drinking in the centre, venture home with their bounty. Anti-social behaviour, especially from younger people, is up. The standards in our city have dropped. It’s dirty, the busses are late and shops are closing all over, even in the recently opened Friars Walk. As a result of all of this, people are choosing not to come.
Before all of this can end, it’s important to look at the causes. It’s easy to blame the austerity measures imposed by the Tories, which is one of the reasons this has happened. Massive cuts to emergency service budgets means that our police resources are stretched almost to breaking point. Whereas it’s easy to say that more police are needed to tackle anti-social behaviour or drug related incidents, if the budget doesn’t allow it there’s not much that can be done. There probably is, as with all businesses, a bloated middle and top level of staff that could be cut, making room for more officers but our emergency services desperately need more funding. Homelessness has also gone up under the Tories, as one report suggests, by 134%. It’s clear that this is absolutely unnacceptable.
Not all blame can lie with the Tories though. The Welsh Government are, in part, responsible for dealing with homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Wales and not nearly enough is being done by them. It seems to me that there is no general consensus on how to tackle it so, rather than explore options and admit the struggle, they are simply ignoring it. This is also true of Newport Council and most of the councillors who seem more interested in the opening of public toilets than the clear drug, homelessness and anti-social behaviour problems in Newport as well as, if these problems persist, the inevitable death of this city centre.
All of those in charge of ensuring things run smoothly – the government, our devolved government and our councillors, both in power and in oppostion – seem pretty useless. We are a city tearing at the seams and none of them seem to care. We live in a world where the acceptable response to seeing someone struggle is to turn a blind eye. The Tories, with their roll out of Universal Credit, have left struggling families unable to buy food or pay rent. IN 2009/10, there were 41,000 food parcels handed out yet in 2016/17 that had risen to 1.2 million. There are far more homeless on our streets. The education system is failing our children, who are going – for lack of a better word – feral; causing fires, fighting, intimidating passers-by, joining gangs, dealing drugs and ending up uneducated, on welfare, depressed, violent, homeless, undisciplined, unhealthy or not understanding their place in the world. It may be a minority, but that minorty is growing and, rather than watch it happen, I feel the need to speak up and try to enact change.
For a long while I thought asking questions of our government, our politicians or even our councillors would make a difference but the further we fall down this seemingly unending spiral of inevitable destruction, the less likely that seems. Unfortuntely, it never feels too far from rock bottom in Newport. I assume that’s the same for many small cities across that UK that, since the imposition of auserity, have found themselves struggling. Northamptonshire council have revealed that they are spending the minimum possible amount following £10m of cuts and other councils are outsourcing social housing. It’s not going to get any better and, despite what you may have heard, we have the money. The UK is the sixth richest economy in the world. Adjust where we spend our money and actually try to help people and it’s possible to envision a country that truly works for everyone.
Eradicating homelessness, ensuring our children are educated, disciplined and useful members of society, having excellent public services and emergency services that keep us safe shouldn’t be a pipe dream. It should be something that we all realise is easily achievable with the correct amount of funding, some new, radical ideas that accept the diverse, multi-cultural, densely populated country that we live in. It’s not going to change. People will keep migrating, people will keep living longer and people will continute to have children so we might as well accept it, adapt and make our towns, cities and our country the best that they can be.