Yesterday I went to the Houses of Parliament, to protest the Kew Gardens funding cuts. I wasn’t sure what I was in for as I walked through the ornately decorated halls and corridors, but it was an absolutely fascinating, motivating experience. Most of the attendees were employees of Kew, and I think I was the only person there with no real connection to place. Given that the petition to stop the cuts has over 90,000 signatures, this was a surprise. But this anti-cuts campaign is falling victim to the same thing that many others have – not enough noise is being made about it. Kew has worldwide influence, and it’s up to people who know how important a place it is, to take the initiative and make the government listen.
The thing is – it shouldn’t be that hard. Recently, the government boasted about spending over £7 billion on scientific research. With the cuts, Kew only has a £5 million deficit. While that’s disastrous for Kew, in comparison to the kind of money the government normally works with, it’s nothing. This isn’t like trying to convince the government to re-privatise the rail service, or stop the destruction of the probation service. In reality, there aren’t many things the government can do with that £5 million, but saving a British institution of worldwide environmental importance is most certainly one of them.
It’s worth noting that much of that £7 billion the government spent on science has been spent on car manufacturing and overseas oil research. A lot of things could be said about that, but let’s leave it at this: they could probably stand to spend a little bit of money on GREEN science now. Science that will not only benefit the environment, but also the people who live and work in their country.
Already, 100 jobs have been cut at Kew, and having experienced first-hand a government mandated ‘voluntary exit’ scheme, I know how utterly horrible this is. Everyone is worried about their job, and the ones who are left have a sudden, unbelievable workload to cope with. The work the other people were doing doesn’t just go away. I know a government worker who, in the two weeks following the privatisation of her sector, worked a conservative estimate of 30 hours of overtime in two weeks. And there were people at the Kew meeting who were doing the same.
It’s easy to forget about the human cost of these things – but it’s important not to. You might not think about how job cuts will affect the people who work at Kew, or you might not find it particularly motivating. But you should. After all, humans are what bring you all the wonderful things that Kew does, and without them, there is no garden. Those beautiful flowers and stunning buildings only exist because there are people maintaining them, and the world-renowned research only happens because there are people conducting it.
Sometimes I have to wonder if politicians completely forget this – I mean, they’re kind of prepared for a life of stress, pressure and an absence of job security. That doesn’t mean everyone else is, or that everyone else should be. Stress is not a measure of success, especially in science, the arts and many public services. Being overworked is not an aspiration, it is a problem. And the government, whether they realise it or not, are creating a population of exhausted, stressed, underpaid workers, who never signed up for any of it.
I’ve learned a lot about the amazing work that Kew is doing, and why it’s so important. I will be sharing this with you soon too, but I wanted to talk to you about the people behind Kew, because I met a lot of them yesterday and they were wonderful, dedicated individuals with an enormous, undeserved weight on their shoulders. You can help them, and by helping them, you can help Kew Gardens.
Wherever you come from, sign this petition, and if you’re in the UK, write to your MP (instructions are below the main text). It doesn’t matter where in the UK you live, because the wider the reach, the better. Although I’m in London now, I still contacted my old MP because technically I’m still registered there, and I thought it would make more sense to spread the word further afield. Neither of these things are hard or take much time, but they make a lot of ‘noise’ in parliament. We were told at the meeting that this ‘noise’ is what makes politicians take note of something – so the more of it you make, the more notice they’ll take.