In his book Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Blythe explains how Governments choose to make cuts to public spending in times of financial downturn, even though time and again it has resulted in damage to the economy rather than repair. Blythe calls it “squeeze out liquidity and pray”. ‘The Austerity delusion’, as it has been coined, is a result of both nepotism and wishful thinking, and is akin to attempting to dig one’s way out of a hole.
The effects of 7 years of cuts have been severe and far-reaching. Vital support services have lost funding from Legal Aid to Child Protection; leaving them incapable of providing even basic safeguards. Youth services have disappeared and gang warfare flourished as ambulances queue with their infirm patients in hospital car parks, waiting for spaces to be cleared in the corridors of chaotic and overflowing wards. Street homelessness has doubled, thousands of families are surviving hand-to-mouth using foodbanks. We could go on.
In 2012, due to the diligent research and campaigning by Disabled People Against Cuts (DAC), the United Nations launched an investigation into the systematic and grave abuse of disabled people by the U.K Government. The investigation published its findings in October 2016. The Independent’s James Moore breaks down the main points:
- The views of disabled people and advocate groups were not meaningfully taken into account before implementing the welfare reforms, and they had little or no influence on decision making.
- The cuts have caused financial hardship including arrears, debts, evictions and reduced levels of weekly essentials such as food.
- Support offered in daily living and access the community was substantially reduced. For some people, this resulted in reduced capacity for personal care such as washing, dressing and toileting.
- The cuts have resulted in reduced social interaction, increased isolation and in some cases institutionalisation.
- Cuts to community services have resulted in the overall curtailed ability for disabled people to take part in everyday life.
Along with cuts to essential resources, the investigation found that our Government are also scapegoating and degrading people with disabilities and poor health. Specifically, the report highlights us as being portrayed as dependent, making a living out of claiming benefits, being criminals (committing fraud), being lazy and being a burden on tax payers.
There were also findings of an increase in hostility and aggression in the general population toward sick and disabled people; the report links this directly to the demonization of welfare users. The BBC reported the Government response: it “strongly refuted” the committee’s findings and its “offensive” view of disability. In their official response paper, published in a sloppy, brief document, the Conservative Party make little effort to reflect on their policies or attitudes; choosing instead to refute the claims, spin the figures and deflect the blame.
The constructive response by the Party would be to engage in earnest with the concerns raised. Considerable resource and expertise were deployed by the U.N, and tireless efforts have been made by citizens to bring the situation to the Government’s attention. The response so far has been arrogant, immature and careless.
This case should not be considered in isolation. For instance, this year Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published a report concluding that Austerity may have caused the highest spike in mortality in almost 50 years. The report links 30,000 excess deaths in 2015 to cuts in Health and Social care budgets. From The Independent: “The researchers warned that without “urgent intervention” from the Government, mortality rates could continue to increase. A spokesperson for the Department of Health in England dismissed the reports, saying variation in excess death rates was normal.” It seems not even 30,000 souls can challenge their hubris.
As activists and citizens, how can we more clearly understand what is happening here and what is a constructive response to it? For a start, those with the stomach for it should step forward into politics as soon as they are able. They may not know it, but our political class are badly in need of our help.