Another phrase being bandied about at the moment – another categorisation of people, designed to describe those earning just enough to keep their heads above water. It means people who don’t have to use food banks but can only just about manage to pay their rent, mortgage, kids clothes, electricity bills. But there’s another way we can use this phrase.
Many of us working in the public sector know that we are ‘just about managing’ to do our jobs. Austerity cuts over the past 6 years, escalating in the past year, have made it harder and harder to do the jobs we’re paid for. Teachers often feel that they’re just about managing to educate their classes. Social workers are just about managing to keep the people they work with safe, holding very difficult cases without enough time to do justice to the people involved. And of course, NHS staff, in the news at the moment, are generally just about managing to provide healthcare for us all. We are all creaking under the weight of savage cuts which have gone way beyond ‘cut to the bone’, but which are full scale amputations.
The public sector is called that because that’s what it is – it’s the sector that provides the services for the public. A thriving public sector means a thriving society – we all work better when we don’t have to worry about falling ill, or not having a roof over our heads. Good education for our young people secures the future. Under the Tories in the 80’s, all of these services were increasingly characterised as bloated and wasteful, full of lazy unionised workers protecting their gold plated pensions. The notion of public service was deliberately devalued. It is still an unfashionable idea – and the idea of doing work ‘for the public good’ tends to be couched in the language of personal empowerment or enrichment – ‘it’s so rewarding’. It is rewarding, but it’s collectively rewarding, as well as personally. That’s what’s important.
We need to reclaim the idea of public service – we should be proud of what we do as public service workers for the good of the country as a whole. We need to be doing much more than ‘just about managing’ in our jobs, we need to be thriving, for all our sakes.