Star comment: Children tip of the iceberg
The plight of 10 abandoned Vietnamese children and their relationship with Shropshire’s council taxpayers illustrates the pressures facing our local authorities.
The issues facing the local authority and its social workers are vast. And the cost accrued for looking after the youngsters are also substantial.
More than £1 million has been spent on a range of services and provisions for the children and more will be allocated. The competing priorities of council taxpayers and those who are reliant on its services come into sharp focus.
The council has a legal responsibility and, some might say, ethical and compassionate duties to take care of the children.
And it is almost impossible for people to put themselves in the footsteps of the orphaned Vietnamese children, who are many miles from home and whose treatment since leaving their home country is unknown. They will have been frightened and traumatised as they have been in strange lands where people speak a different language, have different customs, where the weather is very different and where they are unfamiliar with societal norms.
Similarly, one can only guess at the troubles that they might have fled. Their lives in Vietnam may not have been as fortunate as those that some live, prompting their departure.
But such work comes at an exorbitant cost. Though the local authority is clearly doing the right thing and, of course, is impelled to take the course that it is following, there is a fiscal consequence. And in this age of cutbacks and funding crises, in an era of austerity where the local authority has to ask residents to run sports and arts facilities, there simply isn’t enough money to pay for everything.
Councils are no longer flush. They have cut back and cut back and cut back. The reality of spending £1 million on refugees is that the same money cannot be spent on others, who might consider themselves equally deserving.
It is difficult to square the circle. The Vietnamese children need investment as they seek to assimilate and overcome whatever difficulties they left behind. Those in social care, the mental health system or wishing to play sport also require council services.
The case illustrates that it is a harsh world for many.