“You lot can’t do anything, anyway.” You get fairly used to cynicism on the doorstep. It often feels as though it’s a comfort blanket people wrap themselves in after having had their hopes dashed one too many times. The reality is that the council can actually do a lot, it controls half of local services in Crawley, it’s one of the biggest landlords in the South East, and has extensive regulatory powers. The problem isn’t that the council is powerless, it’s that the powers we do have aren’t the ones that person needs to help them with the challenge they are facing.
It’s a disappointment I share, not least when it comes to the financial crisis currently facing families across Crawley. Even before the pandemic started, one in three children in the town were growing up in poverty, a number which was increasing fast.
Despite being a working-class town based in an expensive region, one thing has historically prevented Crawley from seeing the level of deprivation many communities have faced during earlier periods of economic turmoil: low unemployment. The overabundance of jobs has meant that the vast majority of households has been able to earn enough to keep their heads above water, even if it has been a struggle at times. The pandemic ended that.
While the Government were right to introduce restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID, the failure to realise that this needed to be coupled with targeted support for the towns and industries which endured the consequences of those regulations is a national disgrace, one which has left residents in Crawley feeling the pain more intensely than anywhere else in the county. To find that the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda now has any support we were due instead heading North, to secure votes in newly-won Conservative seats, just compounds the disgrace.
Where does that leave us? With a town where thousands of households are struggling to avoid falling below the poverty line and a Government, the only organisation with the power to resolve the problems they themselves have created, unwilling to lift a finger for Crawley.