Community sector cuts will hurt the poorest communities
Here is the content of RTE Radio 1 Drivetime health slot from 24 September 2009, where the senselessness of cuts to the community sector was discussed. There is a protest on the 30 September at 1 pm leaving Parnell Square and marching to the Dáil.
There is much air time given to the pros and cons of cuts in public service pay and the number of public service workers, yet little attention is paid to the wide range of services provided by the local community sector. The community sector is made up of a extensive array of groups
- community development projects (CDPs)
- family resource centres
- local drugs projects
- groups working with Travellers, victims of domestic violence, lone parents, migrants, people with disabilities.
Specifically this slot was about community development projects but much of what I outline is applicable to those other projects too. There are 180 community development projects around the country. It’s an area that has been invested in hugely over the last 15-20 years. In 1990, there were 15 CDPs. These projects work with some of the most excluded communities in the country. So what do they do?
If we take the example of Lifford in Donegal, the Community Development Project there
- has a childcare facilities which allows parents time away from their children to take education or training programmes or return to work. And also good for the children, so its increasing employment, its providing education and employment opportunities for locals and quality childcare for children
- has a Community Employment scheme with 16 locals getting training with a view to re-entering the work force
- provides community education
- carries out youth activity, after school groups, home work clubs, breakfast clubs, working with young people not in school
- supports a range of community groups for lone parents, older people
- are very involved in the primary care strategy and it is one of the few places in the country to have those much talked about but rare to happen state of the art primary care centres
- Central to all this work is the participation of the local community, them identifying their own needs and responding to them. They are run by local voluntary boards of management.
In terms of money, the core funding for a CDPs is about €120,000 in a year and this pays for two staff and all overheads and a range of projects. So its very good value for money.
Also what’s interesting about the CDPs is that over the years, they have acted as a hub for a range of other projects. If we take Lifford – the fact that they have a CDP up and running, doing really good work with the community, means that they have attracted funding for a whole load of other services like the childcare project or the primary care centre.
One of the difficulties with this type of work is that if you are doing it well, its hard to measure, this is true of all prevention work and public health work, eg if you are providing parenting supports and that child stays in school and out of trouble, its hard to measure that because they don’t become a statistic, its only the ones who end up in jail or in drug treatment or out of school that become a statistic.
But here have been some evaluation do the CDPs in the past that showed
- very few staff they provided a huge amount of services
- they trained a lot of people and reached a lot of people
- they engaged a whole lot of other money and people eg thro CE schemes
- And attracted lots of volunteers and very high levels of community participation
- In many cases these projects are the first line of call of the most vulnerable, they act as a crucial link to state services
- but also they keep people out of the state services by working with them in the community
- More recent evaluation of the Family Resource centres showing similar findings
- There is no doubt that these are very good value for money but also they are an essential fabric to the communities they are working in and for many of these communities.
In terms of the broader economic situation, all the CDPs have already had a 12-15% cut, the local drugs task forces have had a 17% cut. More and more people are looking for their support and services and yet their budgets are being cut. Before these cuts they were providing their projects on shoe string value for money projects.
These are projects in some of the most disadvantaged communities that have always lived by their wits juggling funding sources.
McCarthy proposes cutting €44 million out of a €72 million budget – €20 million of this is for CDPs – they already have had a 5% cut. In 2008, the CDP budget was €25 million, in 2009, it was €20 million.
The McCarthy proposal of a 60% of the CDP budget would close half the projects in the country.
Maintaining these projects is about maintaining communities that are sustainable. People in the CDPs say their work allow some people in their communities to survive. Taking them away will lead to community collapse. Those involved in these communities speak about the destruction of fabric it has taken decades to create. Like dismantling the railway infrastructure, its easy to do but it takes decades and millions and millions to reconstruct.
As Mary Coughlan says “it just does not make sense”.
There is a protest against the cuts facing all types of community groups – assembling at 1pm in Parnell Square in Dublin on Wednesday 30th September.