Do any of these things worry you:
- Not being able to get a GP appointment
- Needing expensive social care as you get older
- Not having enough money coming in to pay your bills
- Having to wait for critical hospital treatment
- Losing your home if you can’t pay the rent or mortgage
- Your children’s mental health and support needs not being addressed
If so, you’ll be more worried to hear that we’re about to be hit by a new wave of austerity. We’re told that the government has to cut spending because the country is running an overdraft so we all need to tighten our belts. We’re told that if we all make sacrifices we’ll come through this together. But in Challenge Poverty Week, we have to challenge this narrative because austerity is not necessary and it creates poverty, not recovery.
Making cuts to public service spending is a choice. How it works is that the government creates money, it gets some back in taxation, and the government spends money. So if the government wants to balance the books, it can create more money (they call it QE), it can raise more through taxing corporate profits and high earners, or it can cut spending.
When the government cuts spending on core services, we don’t all tighten our belts. Only people who depend on public services are affected. Take the NHS for example – the underspend on the NHS means that we have 132,000 staff vacancies which pushes waiting lists up to 7 million. There aren’t enough GPs so it’s hard to get an appointment and waiting lists for hospital treatment drive people who can afford it to go private. The wealthy already have private health cover. So we’re not all in it together when NHS spending is cut.
What about housing? Mortgages and rents are going up and it’s predicted that we’ll see a wave of repossessions and evictions. The social housing stock has been decimated and councils aren’t given the funding to create new affordable housing. Where will people go when they lose their homes. Between 2010 and 2018 there was a 60% increase in homeless households being put up in temporary accommodation. Does it affect the wealthy? Obviously not. When it comes to homes, we are definitely not all in the same boat, bungalow, mansion or castle.
The picture is the same with social care. If you can afford to pay, it’s no problem. For everyone else you may lose your home to pay for care – and that’s even if you can get care. Often the burden falls on families who are not supported or trained and who can end up having to give up work and fall into financial difficulties as a result. It’s the same with education – cuts to state schools don’t matter if you’re sending your children for a private education. But cuts to supplies, to teaching assistance, to free school meals, to SEN provision – that affects the rest of us. It’s the same with all public services and amenities. When buses are cut, it doesn’t affect the people who drive or take taxis. When leisure services are cut, it only matters for people whose kids use public swimming pools and sports centres – it doesn’t affect the people who join private clubs.
Have you been affected by cuts in services? What do you think about it? Do you think austerity is the right choice?