I have been listening to George Osborne’s spending review coming in this lunchtime, holding my breath, waiting to hear whether we will all still have jobs to go to tomorrow, whether my children’s educational future hangs in the balance, and what kind of health and social care system there may be when all the full effects swing in.
But one of my biggest concerns for society, and one that cuts across all those individual personal concerns, is about the future of a critical society. One that will take the time to question what direction we are going in and why, and not always think the ultimate destination has to be the bottom line.
After the cuts will there be space and time in our society for people to take time to think? Will we still have students out there to study our courses here at the Open University, or will they be too busy making ends meet?
In the Faculty of Health and Social Care we produce courses which we hope will inspire each and every student to make their lasting contribution to society, in some way developed from what they learn with us – whether in their role caring for a sick relative, as a frontline member of the nursing staff, as community workers, social workers and volunteers, or maybe even as someone with some power to swing their own axes when future decisions have to be made.
But we rely on those students being able to fund themselves to study our courses in the first place, or on employers supporting them to do so. We also rely on a society and government that values lifelong learning in all its forms – and that includes the social sciences, humanities, philosophy and critical thinking, as well as business, economics and science.
In response to the Chancellor’s announcement, Labour’s Alan Johnson said “today we face the deepest cuts to public spending in living memory… today is the day abstract figures and spreadsheets turn into people’s futures.”
I still await, holding my breath, wondering exactly what those futures are going to look like, because I didn’t get a real sense from the figures and spreadsheets that the solution is yet in sight.