I’ve just got back from a march and rally against the cuts in Norwich, and I have to say, I was quite taken aback by the number of people who turned out on what was and is a bloody cold and miserable day. The police reckoned there were a thousand people there, but I’d put it higher – closer to the 2,000 mark that others were bandying around.

Anyway, whatever the number, for somewhere like Norwich (ie not that London) it was impressive. I think it just goes to show how strong the feeling is out there that these cuts are wrong. And that’s not just the feeling of those who took part today – there were people who stopped and applauded and cheered the march on as we passed them, shoppers doing their Christmas shopping who wanted us to know that they supported us.

So here are some piccies. And the text of the speech I gave at the rally.

Marchers getting ready to set off

Trade union banners were out in force

The march wends its way around St Peter Mancroft church

Move it along there!

Back at Chapelfield Gardens for the rally

My Speech

As Alan Johnson said at the despatch box on the day George Osborne announced the biggest public sector spending cuts for decades: these cuts are purely ideological. And he was right, don’t believe the hype: these cuts aren’t necessary, they’re not essential for the economy, they are instead what many on the Tory benches came into politics for. They’re an attack on the working class; an attack on the welfare state; an attack on the poor and on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and on top of all that, they’re also an attack on women.

Some 65 per cent of public sector workers are women. We make up around three-quarters of the workforce in local government, in schools, and in the NHS, and many of us work in the low paid, low grade, low status and insecure work that is most likely to be hit.  But make no mistake; it’s not just our jobs that are at risk here.

Because women also make up the majority of service users in the public sector. Women rely on the services that the public sector provides, not just for ourselves but for our families as well. And when those services are withdrawn, when the elderly, the young, the disabled and the vulnerable are abandoned by the state; when the state stops providing or caring for those most in need of its help, it’s women who step into the breach. It’s women who are expected to fill the gaps in provision. It’s predominantly women who take on the role of carer when no one else, when no government, or local council, or local health authority, will.

One in five women already act as unpaid carers for adult family members. Cuts in services mean this figure is almost certain to rise.

Women also make up the majority of benefit recipients in this country. For example, a million more women claim housing benefit than men, many of them lone parents already facing poverty. According to figures from the Fawcett Society, benefits typically make up one fifth of women’s incomes as opposed to one tenth when it comes to men’s, and in fact just last month the number of unemployed women in the UK increased to just over 1 million, the highest figure since 1988.

According to Theresa May, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, equality is now a dirty word. That’s right, the Government’s Minister for Equalities thinks that equality is a dirty word. The concept of equality, she’s argued, has become a “dirty word”, one that’s associated with “the worst forms of political correctness and social engineering”.

Well I’ve got a message for Theresa May. There’s nothing dirty about equality. Not unless you’re a Tory grandee whose never known anything but privilege, and the thought of having to share anything with those you regard as ‘less than’ just sticks in your craw.

No, there’s nothing dirty about equality. What’s dirty is inequality. Inequality that under this Coalition Government, as a direct result of these swingeing spending cuts, is set to grow and grow and grow.

Thanks to the Coalition’s ideological cuts the gap between the have’s and the have nots will get bigger. The gap between men’s earnings and women’s earnings, the gender pay gap that we’ve been fighting for the past 40 years to little or no avail, will get bigger. In fact you may have heard that on Thursday this week the Government announced that as part of its efforts to tackle the gender pay gap, mandatory pay audits will not be introduced to the private sector in 2013 as set out in the recently passed Equality Act, but that that clause will instead be shelved. Because that’s how this Government does equality. By not doing equality.

At a conference I attended back in May this year, Lynne Featherstone, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Equalities, said, and I quote: “There will be no roll back on equality under our our watch.”

And yet already, before the ink on the Equality Act has barely had time to dry, we’re seeing equality being rolled ever and ever backwards.

But comrades, we’re not going to stand for it. We’re not going to just sit back and let this happen.

The young people of this country, the students and the school children, those whose futures have now been sold out to the highest bidder, have already taken to the streets and let their views be known.

And now it’s our turn.

Because the people of Norfolk, the residents of this fine city and of this fine county, a county with a proud history of standing up for what’s right, and for the poor and most vulnerable among us, will not stand idly by while our heritage is being trashed around us.

We will not stand idly by and see our local services decimated. We not stand idly by and see our poor and our elderly and our vulnerable abandoned to their fates.

And we will not stand idly by while the rich get ever richer and while the bankers enjoy their bonuses; we will not simply sit back and watch as our families, our neighbours, and our communities, are destroyed, so that the children of Thatcher, her bastard mutant spawn, can finally live her dream.

So to Norfolk County Council, to Norwich City Council, and to all of our local councils: know that you are now on notice. The people of Norfolk are watching what you do next. And be under no illusion: you will be held to account every single step of the way. Thank you.

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