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Planting Golden Seeds in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear, and Durham


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Marian Moore (NE Storyteller)



  • AUSTERITY BITES: a journey to the sharp end of cuts in the UK 
  • By Mary O'Hara (journalist and Fulbright scholar)
  • Pub. Policy Press, 2014 


We learn something from everyone who passes through our lives.  Some lessons are painful; some are painless.  But, all are priceless.  SUCHITHA (today)


You don't have to be a genius to have gleaned that I hail from the North East of England and am proud of it. Being a woman of a certain age, a one-time teacher, and a coal-miner's daughter (to boot), may even suggest to some of you that AUSTERITY BITES by Mary O'Hara might have struck a chord in me, even at times precipitating a melt-down.  And, you would be right - of course.  

However, you probably won't know that my father, an ex-miner, took his own life one year after the Miners' Strike in 1985.  Here was a man, a good man, who had lost faith in humanity.  I'll say no more about this event, other than it's within living memory and still raw. It's a tragedy we don't talk of much, but there is little doubt in my mind that there is a strong correlation between the economic and social fall-out we witnessed thirty years ago (when my father died) and what Mary O'Hara documents in AUSTERITY BITES.

They say lightening doesn't strike twice in the same place, but ... 

  • I worry, and (like Mary O'Hara)
  • I'm very, very angry

That I feel totally betrayed yet again goes without saying. But, this time round I am not so overcome by grief and fear that I cannot speak out. I now have a voice for I am no longer employed as a senior teacher in a state-run secondary school, as was the case in 1985. That time is long since passed, and with it the constraints of being responsible for easily-influenced young minds. My husband, too, is long retired and I am no longer bound by the mores of his public sector job - either.

But, still cautious. 

Mary O'Hara speaks for all of us, or at least all of us who have concerns about the way things are going as the men in 'hard hats with hard hearts' lead the country merrily into chaos - again. Do they and their kind never learn? One quote from the cover of AUSTERITY BITES describes Mary's book as, 'an uncomfortable but necessary read'. ROBIN INCE. writer, actor and comedian.  

Another telling quote from the fly-cover is, 'Mary O'Hara's book strips away the rhetoric to reveal the truth.  The United Kingdom is not the land of fairness.  It's a fearful place, where the heaviest burden falls on the weakest.' SIMON DUFFY. Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform.  

One more: "Mary O'Hara has written a powerful and vivid account of the regressive and harmful impact of public spending cuts, which gives voice to those who are suffering.  Read it and be angry. Pass it on. Send a copy to your MP.  To echo one of her interviewees: those in power need to listen." PROFESSOR THE BARONESS (RUTH) LISTER OF BURTERSETT.  

The gloves are off.

A fellow-blogger called Jack Monroe wrote, "Austerity is not a medicine. It's a cancer; a cancer at the heart of society."  To my mind, this is as good a place as any to now list the Contents Page of Mary O'Hara's book, AUSTERITY BITES:

One     Money's too tight to mention

            Food poverty: austerity made visible

Two     The big squeeze

             Financial insecurity: austerity and the erosion of household income

Three   Welcome to 'Wongaland'

             The rise of personal debt: austerity and the predatory lender

Four     Work maketh the the person

             The demonisation of the jobless: austerity and the myth of the skiver

Five      All work and no pay

             Work and wages: austerity and the jobs crisis

Six        Bearing the brunt

             The targeting of people with disabilities: austerity at its worst

Seven   A life lived in fear is a life half lived

             Austerity pushes people to the edge

So, in all there are seven closely argued and researched chapters in the book. In preparation for the heart-rending stories that are to come and an equally heart-rending conclusion, Mary O'Hara briefly tells her own story in the first pages of AUSTERITY BITES.  It's only at the end that readers discover that the author is an award-winning journalist (including Mind Journalist of the Year and Highly Commended European Diversity Journalist of the Year 2013).  

Mary was educated at St. Louise's Comprehensive on the Falls Road in Belfast and at Magdalene College Cambridge where she read social and political science. In 2010 she was an Alistair Cooke Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley, California where she conducted research on press coverage of mental illness and suicide. She is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts and trustee of the charity, Arts Emergency. 

Some of you may already be aware that Mary O'Hara writes copiously about health, poverty and social justice for publications such as The Guardian and The Observer. Stalwarts of may have found me using Mary's Guardian articles to back up my own somewhat less-polished and less-published writings! So, you and I keep good company. I could go on, but (for reasons best known to myself) I won't. Rather, I am content to leave the summing-up in the safe hands of the publisher who, at close of play, had this to say about the book in question, AUSTERITY BITES:

"This timely and apposite book by award-winning journalist Mary O'Hara chronicles the true impact of austerity on people at the sharp end, based on her 'real-time' 12-month journey around the country just as the most radical reforms were being rolled out in 2012 and 2013.

"Drawing on hundreds of hours of compelling first-person interviews with a broad spectrum of people ranging from homeless teenagers, older job-seekers, pensioners, charity workers, employment advisers and youth workers, as well as an extensive body of research and reports, the book explores the grim reality of living under the biggest shake-up of the welfare state in 60 years."

"A 'must-read' book, AUSTERITY BITES seeks to dispel any notion that 'we are all in this together' and offers an alternative to the dominant and simplistic narrative that we inhabit a country of 'skivers versus strivers'."  

This book is ammunition. Buy it.  Use it.




Please, do try to read between the lines of the above narrative.  In doing so, bear in mind that - as always - I have done my inadequate best to capture the essence of the tale. As the men in 'hard hats + hard hearts' plough on regardless, presumably they are also doing their inadequate best to run the country.  

But, don't they get paid for their efforts?  And, by us?   

Finally, I ask:

  • Shouldn't we all be worried?
  • Shouldn't we all be angry? 
  • Shouldn't we all do something?

If not now, when?  


  • Marian Moore
  • June 2014






You see things; and you say ‘Why?' But, I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?'

I thank you Lord for allowing me five carefree years at Durham Girls' Grammar School (1953 - 1958), this forming the bedrock for a life-time of further/higher education at New College Durham, the University of Sunderland, the Open University, Northumbria University, and (as of now) the University of Self. 

Not a bad call for a coal-miner's daughter and major beneficiary of the British Welfare State.

For my hard-working, post-war family, 'a world fit for heroes' included - an affordable council house for us to live in; subsidised public transport to get me to school; free and inclusive  'three-tier state-education' for all. This ran alongside free school milk, nutritious school dinners, and the readily available care of our beloved National Health Service - free at the point of need for everyone.

A child of my time, social mobility became a reality; and there was even something called 'full-employment' when I joined the workforce in 1960.

Always remember when intent on dismantling the British Welfare State (and me) that this is seen by many citizens as an act of sabotage, completely out of kilter with the needs of a modern, diverse society. These same people see many so-called 'reforms' as in accordance with an out-worn ideology based on elitism and social class; ideas of separation (rather than unity); competition (rather than co-operation).

It is my experience that it is easy to break something down; but devilish hard to put it together again. A world fit for heroes?  As a critical friend, I wonder.  




This review highlights the absolute need for compassion in all reforms, it should come from the heart rather than being purely cerebral/logical.  SUCHITHA (today)




Here's a link to Mary's Guardian article launching her book about austerity!
Mary O'Hara FRSA
Writer & Alistair Cooke Fulbright Scholar 2010
European Diversity Journalist of the year 2013 Highly Commended



ENDS | 3,037 hits | Sealed | 2015-10-31





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