2016 has also been peppered with a remarkably high number of celebrity deaths. I was particularly sad about losing Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne and Prince.
Oddly many of my friends, family and acquaintances appear to have had a difficult 2016, or at least a year of significant change.
I have supported (and continue to help) several friends through tough times. And my own life has also changed. In May I separated from my husband after 15 years of marriage (we simply grew apart over the years) and I have been living in Ottery St Mary since. By the end of January we will be (amicably) divorced.
Last month, I decided to add to my zumba regime with proper dancing classes. It has been a few years since my last foray into formal dancing, but I still remember the moves – and salsa in particular makes me feel happy and alive in the same way politics makes me feel alive mentally. I’m not ready to join the advanced salsa class yet but am told it won’t be too long so I’m looking forward to that.
I feel very fortunate. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel grateful that I have a secure roof over my head and a lovely family. That is the very minimum that any of us can expect and no one, but no one, should be homeless.
So the more I read about poverty the more furious it makes me. How is it that our country – the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world has such a rapidly growing number of homeless people – and now an astonishing number of people – even in work are homeless.
Government ministers with forked tongues boast that more people than ever before are in work. Yet this month, the charity Shelter calculated that over 170,000 Londoners are homeless. Its researchers pieced together the data for how many were BOTH in a job and in temporary accommodation: it amounts to nearly half (47%) of all homeless households in the capital.
Last week the child poverty unit was quietly closed down. There’s no money, we are told to run public services, or support people who are struggling. BUT there IS money. Money for expensive peerages, billions for HS2, a third runway at Heathrow, expensive new roads, nuclear submarines, tax breaks for big business and the wealthy. These are the spending priorities of this government.
Priorities that are very badly askew in my opinion.
I vowed this time last year that I would continue to challenge East Devon MP, Hugo Swire to act in the interests of local people, rather than the interests of his political party and government ministers.
I do think that my efforts in challenging and writing to Hugo Swire have made a difference over the past year or so.
For the first time (to my knowledge) in November, he openly rebelled against government ministers by asking for more money in the budget for social care. He asks the occasional question on behalf of constituents in parliament. However, his representations at central government on behalf of residents, are otherwise, poor in my view.
Sir Hugo’s understanding of what it’s like to live on a low income or be forced to use a foodbank, is non-existent, judging from comments he has made in the media. This is a very great shame, given the growing hardship experienced by many thanks to his own government’s choices on spending taxpayers money. His family are number 42 on the Sunday Times Rich List.
The first part of 2017 will be busy campaigning for the Devon County Council election new seat of Otter Valley, which includes the Ottery parish, Newton Poppleford, Otterton, Aylesbeare and Colaton Raleigh. I very much hope I am re-elected with a reasonable majority.
Health will continue to be a major focus and my work on Devon County Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee continues. Thursday 19th January is a big day as the committee examines the very controversial sustainability and transformation plan (which means big health service cuts) as well as the plans to halve the remaining community hospital beds. Then in the evening I have been invited to take part in a live BBC television debate on the health service cuts.
The Devon County Council budget will be voted on in February. Tens of millions of pounds will be required to be cut yet again, as directed by central government. So there are tough decisions ahead and more hardship to come for residents who will see services diminish further still.
I suppose I have seen 2016 through the prism of my new life. I’ve contemplated much and have worked through some stuff and come to terms with – and accepted – the things I can’t change.
I look forward to new challenges next year and hope my family, friends and I are fortunate enough to enjoy continued health and happiness.
I wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas and a very happy, healthy and successful 2017.