A tale of two towns: We're all in this together... Oh, really?

Will the pain of the public spending cuts be felt equally? Victoria Richards, in the Prime Minister's affluent Oxfordshire seat, and Emily Dugan, in Ed Miliband's South Yorkshire constituency, find that some are less equal than others


WITNEY

Population 101,600

Ethnicity 98.4 per cent white

Average house prices £275,338

Average income £16,700

Education 21.9 per cent of those aged 16 to 74 have no qualifications

Employment 2.9 per cent of working age adults on incapacity benefit (1,900); 1.7 per cent are on jobseekers' allowance; 14 per cent of children are in families on working tax credit; 22 per cent of children in low-income families; 8 per cent in workless families

What the locals say "Witney is quiet, safe and traditional. It's also expanding. It's becoming the new Oxford."

Hot spots The village green and the farmers' market in Market Square

Best place to eat The Fleece Brasserie. Cost of a meal for two: £60

The cutback: council spending

Frank Wilson is the strategic director of West Oxfordshire District Council. "We should be able to save £170,000 a year by pooling services with neighbouring districts. I share my job with the Cotswolds District Council, and we may combine things like council tax administration. We'd expected the cuts to be about 25 per cent. It's worse than that, but staff are on a three- or four-year pay freeze."

Welfare

ME sufferer Cindy Carlton, 45, from Carterton, will continue to get employment and support allowance (ESA) and housing benefit after winning an appeal against Oxfordshire County Council. "A doctor thought I was 'fit to work'. I've not got a formal diagnosis, yet a year ago I was bedridden. I have problems walking, concentrating and with my vision. My son Tom, 12, looks after me but he doesn't get the help he needs. I love work. I'd go back tomorrow if I could."

Schools

Single parent Fiona Middleton, 32, from Witney, is a specialist sports coach and runs a private after-school trampolining programme. "We teach more than 200 kids a week and it helps keep them off the streets. With the cuts, kids are only going to get two hours of PE a week."

Youth employment

School leaver Kate Decker, 18, from Burford, is unemployed. "I've had three jobs in the past four months – in a pub, a factory and a café – but custom was too low and I had to leave. I see my friends in the pub every day, because they're not working. I've been on antidepressants and want to go back to college but I might not be able to. Cuts to public sector jobs will increase competition for jobs. Everybody says 18 is the 'age of opportunity', yet I've just had to go on the dole."

Emergency services

Rod Matheson is Unison branch secretary for Thames Valley Police in Oxfordshire. "We're very concerned about our members' jobs. Seven or eight years ago the forces had a massive recruitment drive to free up police time and put more of a presence on the streets. Now they're talking about cutting back office staff, with existing police taken off of operational duties to fill in those roles. There is a fear that job cuts could reach into the thousands."

Child benefit

Lisa Hyatt and Selina Davis, both 27, from Witney, are not affected by child benefit cuts.

Selina: "It does affect me because my partner earns more than £44,000 a year. But the amount of child benefit we get doesn't go far enough to make a real difference. It's only £80 a month or so. I don't think I'll miss it because my daughter Josie is only a month old – I haven't got used to having the benefit yet."

Lisa: "I have two children and am studying but the cuts don't affect me because I don't earn enough to hit the threshold."

Community scheme at risk

County forester Eric Dougliss works with Wychwood Project director Nick Mottram on environmental schemes.

Eric: "We run hedgerow restoration, dry stone walling, pond clearing – and we plant a lot of trees. We rely on district and county council funding, though we do have 700 'Friends of Wychwood' who help with donations. We are the 'Big Society' – we've been doing it for 13 years."

Nick: "Environmental benefits are not easily costed. You can't measure how many butterflies we've saved."

Pensions

James "Jim" Parker, 75, from Witney, a retired nurse and former Royal Army Medical Corps officer, said he was only slightly worried about his pension. "I've got my own house and I'm very lucky. I'm comfortable, but I've worked hard all of my life. The country is in a mess. Let the people who get the most money pay for the cuts. I'm fortunate because I don't have to have sheltered accommodation; I've got family to look after me. The one thing I am worried about is my pension. It increased by only £3 this year."

Rail fares

Lee Cooke, 45, the manager of a drug and alcohol addiction centre in Devon, drives to Carterton in Oxfordshire for work every three weeks. "I have to drive to get here for work. I prefer driving, and there's no train station near by. In rural areas like Devon and Oxfordshire people tend to drive – most of them have cars, so it's more convenient. The fares are too expensive coming from Devon to Oxford. It would be better to be able to do it by public transport, but once the ticket prices go up, that won't be an option."

Housing

David Waters is chief executive of Cottsway Housing Association. "We had plans to build 44 new properties under an 'extra care housing scheme'. But they're expensive. It's positive to have a bit of flexibility over what we charge for rent, but it comes at a price. News that they're cutting grants from £8.4bn to £4.4bn over the next four years, with new tenants picking up the tab, will result in a system that could see neighbours paying far more than each other for their properties."

DONCASTER NORTH

Population 96,423

Ethnicity 98 per cent white

Average house prices £136,224

Average income £11,428

Education 38 per cent of those aged 16 to 74 have no qualifications

Employment 10 per cent of working age adults on incapacity benefit (4,900); 4.9 per cent are on jobseekers' allowance; 24 per cent of children are in families on working tax credit; 42 per cent of children in low-income families; 18 per cent in workless families

What the locals say "I've seen Doncaster in its prime and I've seen it at its worst. This is its worst."

Hot spots Highfields Miners Welfare Scheme Social Club

Best place to eat Fish King chip shop. Cost of a meal for two: £3.50

The cutback: council spending

Jim Broad, Unison branch secretary for Doncaster, says Doncaster council will cut 800 jobs by April. "Council workers were warned about speaking publicly about the cuts. Everyone is frightened. We expect 26 managers to be cut from children's services and 20 school consultants to go. What is clear is this is just the start; this is going to have a devastating impact on the area."

Youth employment

James Gittins, 21, from Scawthorpe, just graduated with a sports science degree from Sheffield Hallam and wants to train as a PE teacher. "They said because of the spending cuts they weren't sure there would be any graduate teacher programme places this year. I'm working as a teaching assistant until I hear. If I got a GTP place I'd get paid for it. I've applied for a PGCE but I'm not sure how I'd pay for it. Being a teaching assistant isn't exactly the pay scale for my qualifications."

Welfare

Kerim Yesildag, 45, from Highfields in Bentley, is on incapacity benefit with a slipped disc and chronic arthritis. "I got a letter which basically said 'we don't think you're ill'. They wrote to my GP – and when he said I was ill they sent their own doctor. I used to work for Doncaster council but it was just too painful to work. I don't want benefits. I want to work but unless someone makes me better I won't be able to, and I have to support my wife and three children."

Schools

Foster carer Chris Hey, 59, is campaigning against Arksey primary school losing its only two special teaching assistants, as they helped her adopted daughter Kacey, seven. "We were just told they were being made redundant. So much for Big Society."

Community scheme at risk

Paul Morris, 20, is a Bikeability instructor whose cycle safety scheme with primary schoolchildren in Bentley is at risk from council cuts. "We're a charity, but we're sub-contracted by Doncaster council, so our jobs are at risk. We're teaching kids how to be safe on the roads and that's really important. If they shut us down, it would make a big difference because it's good for the kids' fitness to cycle – and with us they have the confidence and safety knowledge to go on the roads."

Child benefit

Michael Taylor, 38, from Skellow, has finally found work after being unemployed, but his new salary puts him just in the bracket that means he cannot get child benefit. "It may only be £120 a month, but it will make a big difference not having that. I'm the only one earning and I've got two kids to support. I'm worried I could be out of work again. I got made redundant with no pay and five weeks owing to me in April. Then I was unemployed. My daughter is at one of these new academies, so that means finding money for proper blazers."

Emergency services

John Gilliver, 46, from Askern, is the Fire Brigade Union chair for South Yorkshire. "We've already been cut to the bone and now they want to cut down more. They're putting lives at risk. Because of the cuts we've had already, we're down to one fire engine at Adwick. Last year there was a fire in Highfields and the family died because Adwick's only fire engine had gone to a fire in Bessacarr. Now they're going to get rid of one firefighter a night."

Housing

Joanne North, 38, lives alone in a tiny caravan in Bentley paid for by the council. "At the minute the council pays all my rent for the caravan. If it didn't I don't know what I'd do. I'd probably be homeless. At the minute I can barely afford what I need. I spent two months in hospital earlier this year with psychosis and I can't work. I used to work in catering but I became ill when I was 26 and I haven't worked since. My disability living allowance has already gone down by £100 a month."

Rail fares

Lorraine Beach, 21, from Bentley, commutes by train into the centre of Doncaster. "I get the train into town every day. I work in a clothes shop in the centre and at the moment the train is just 90p return. If it went up a lot it'd be a problem because the buses around here just aren't reliable. I guess I'd probably have to walk, but it is quite a way. At the minute I make about £100 a week working part time. I've got a degree in psychology and I'd like to do something related to that, but the work needs to be close because of the travel costs."

Pensions

Pete Taplin, 51, a model steam engineer from Askern, will now have to wait even longer before he can retire with his wife, Linda, 57. "I'll have to wait until I'm 66 now and I'll feel a lot more resentment working that year. That would be another year when Linda's retired and I'm not. We love walking and we want to be healthy for the things we want to do together in retirement. I don't earn enough for a private pension. If we have a few quid we'll put it aside, but lately we've had nothing to spare."

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