The Austerity Bomb is Ticking


The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 was addressed in different ways in different countries. In 2010 the UK the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government introduced an austerity programme consisting of sustained reductions in public spending, intended to reduce the government budget deficit and the welfare state. Seven years on government debt has increased from £1 trillion to a massive £1.7 trillion and the deficit is still £15 billion. So there has been some success in reducing the deficit but what was the cost and who bore the brunt?

UK Debt 2005 to 2017 –

Austerity measures have been implemented in the UK against a background of globalization, a process that should lead to lower consumer prices, greater choice of goods, bigger export markets, economies of scale and greater competition. If that’s true, where have all the benefits gone and what of the downsides:

  • exacerbation of income inequalities
  • degradation of traditional cultures,
  • operating in the interests of the richest,
  • not benefiting local communities, and so on?
UK Deficit 2005 to 2017 –

Wealth Inequality

By 2020 the income of the richest 10 per cent of the population are forecast to rise to more than six times the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent. This will be the highest ratio on record. Wealth inequality is increasing so it is clear that the poor are not getting a fair share of the benefits of globalization while definitely feeling the impacts of austerity.

Similarly it is clear that the entire bottom half of the income distribution in the UK will see living standards worsen over the course of the current parliament (to 2020-21) while the richest will see real incomes grow by more that 4%.

The Rise in UK Inequality – The Resolution Foundation

Effects of Austerity

The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world so surely these reductions in living standards for the poorest are compensated by the overall economic wealth in the country? Judging by the evidence, clearly not!

UK Income Growth from Richest to Poorest – The Resolution Foundation


In 2016 there were over a million user visits to foodbanks, a 9% increase over 2015, while millions of people are struggling to afford a decent roof over their heads and two thirds of children in poverty are in working households. There has been a 37% real-terms reduction in government funding to local authorities between 2010 and 2016 and this matters to real people. Local authority funding to help vulnerable people avoid homelessness was cut by 45% between 2009 and 2015. Families of children with disabilities widely can’t access specialist local council help, leaving them without personal assistants, overnight support services and respite care. And 1.2 million people aged 65 and over who need support to eat, dress, or wash are not getting that help.

  • These impacts are not uniformly shared as councils in the poorest areas had to cut back local services 10 time as much as in more affluent areas.

  • The Royal Society of Medicine has stated that the United Kingdom’s austerity measures in healthcare may have resulted in 30,000 deaths in England and Wales in 2015.
  • When the coalition government came to power in 2010, capital investment in new affordable homes was cut by 60%, while government-imposed caps on local authority borrowing continued to restrict their ability to raise money to build new homes.
  • Former housing minister John Healey noted that the rate of starting social rented schemes had declined from 40,000 in 2009/10 to less than 1,000 in 2015/16.
  • The number of people sleeping rough on any one night across England had more than doubled between 2010 and 2016 to an estimated 4,134, according to a government street count.

Regulatory Austerity

Another theme of government policy in recent years has been a constant attack on ‘unnecessary regulations’, particularly health & safety, demonised and portrayed as barriers to growth and hindering progress. The Tory manifesto for the 2017 snap election stated “… poor and excessive government regulation limits growth for no good reason. So we will continue to regulate more efficiently, saving £9 billion through the Red Tape Challenge and the One-In-Two-Out Rule.”

In reality, sensible regulation facilitates trade and promotes growth while keeping people safe and healthy, and providing decent working and living conditions.

A Dangerous Divide

Evidence shows that the real benefits of globalization have not been shared equally across income groups in the UK. Policy decisions at the national level have directly rewarded the already wealthy at the expense of the poor. The controversial economic theory of austerity, as applied by the coalition and conservative governments, has reduced the deficit but has had absolutely no effect on reducing the national debt. And, combined with attacks on necessary regulation, austerity measures and globalization have made the poor poorer and much less safe. We now see a really dangerous divide in UK society with large portions of the population getting poorer in real terms while working ever harder, seeing their access to safe housing reduced, public services disappearing or becoming harder to access, while a tiny minority get richer and richer – and it is this wealthy minority that are dictating policy. Recent events have made this divide starkly clear and there is a vacuum of leadership when it is sorely needed to steer us away from confrontation and anger towards a more equitable future. This is ticking bomb!

Grenfell Tower

As the full horror of yet another disaster unfolds, there is anger and, quite rightly, demands for answers. At this stage it is pointless to speculate and much too soon to start apportioning blame – emotions are still much too raw. And I have no intention of trawling through the eye witness stories, amazing as

Grenfell Tower image
Grenfell Tower Fire

they are.

As I watched the live news this morning, and survivors, friends, relatives and neighbours appeared before the cameras, and the horror stories mounted, one thing really struck me – the decency and eloquence of the community. ‘Decency’ hardly seems an adequate word but it is the right word: behaviour that is good, moral, and acceptable in society.

People of every colour and creed, even the angry young man who used the ‘f’ word on prime time television to express his frustration, demonstrated the best of humanity. This has nothing to do with ‘British values’ or nationalism but has everything to do with real people, living in a vibrant community, often feeling neglected by authority, looking out for one another – as decent people, all over the world do when faced with enormous difficulties.

Mahad Egal
Mahad Egal & Victoria Derbyshire

I don’t know Mahad Egal, and I don’t particularly enjoy watching the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire, but watching Mahad’s eloquent description of events, and Victoria comforting him when his emotions could no longer be contained, is a much more powerful demonstration of the decency and eloquence that my inadequate words are struggling to describe.

Britain: The End of a Fantasy | by Fintan O’Toole | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

The wisdom of this article by Finton O’Toole is unquestionable and I urge everyone trying to make sense of the mess our country is in to read it and share it.

Fintan O’Toole

Brexit is an elite project dressed up in rough attire. Because Theresa May doesn’t actually believe in Brexit, she’s improvising a way forward very roughly sketched out by other people. In Britain’s recent election, May’s phony populism came up against the Labour party’s more genuine brand of anti-establishment radicalism that convinced the young and the marginalized that they had something to come out and vote for.

Source: Britain: The End of a Fantasy | by Fintan O’Toole | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

The Awful ‘Shy Green’ Returns

Steve Bell 18.07.14

On his appointment as Environment Secretary to our ‘not-government’ Michael ‘Treachery’ Gove promised to protect the environment. In a 2014 speech he declared himself a “shy green” so what’s the problem? Well he’s shy to the point of subterranean.

Let’s start with his parliamentary record.

  • In 2016 he voted against reducing carbon dioxide in new homes.
  • In 2013 he voted against greenhouse gas emission targets.
  • In 2012 he voted to against the Green Investment bank having to support carbon emission reduction targets.
  • In 2011 he voted in favour of selling off our public woodlands and forests.
  • In 2015 he voted against a review of the impact of fracking on climate change and the environment, and he voted against requiring environmental permits for fracking.
  • In 2016 he said, during the Brexit campaign, that the rules restricting the building of new homes in environmentally sensitive areas should be scrapped.
  • He supports lifting the ban on fox hunting and voted for badger culls in 2012 and 2013.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that in 2013 when Eduction Secretary he tried to remove global warming from the geography curriculum!

Gove’s official title is Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This reminds us that until 2001 responsibility for environmental issues and ‘agriculture, fisheries and food’ lay with separate government departments. This made perfect sense because it enabled environmental concerns to be considered independently of the agriculture, fisheries and food lobbies. Now, unfortunately, the farmers friend Tories find it much easier to promote their interests whatever the environmental impact. Sadly the merger of interests happened under a Labour government.

Just to add salt into the wound, Michael Gove has also consistently voted for greater restrictions on campaigning by third parties, such as charities, during elections! I guess he doesn’t want the green lobby pointing out just how shy he really is!

If Brexit is the answer, what is the question?

There is a view that leaving the European Union (EU) will solve this country’s problems. This is wrong on two counts; firstly leaving the EU does not in itself solve any problems, although it may create the frameworks within which solutions could be developed. Secondly leaving the EU creates a miriad of new problems. There may well be new opportunities offered by leaving the EU but do these really compensate for the downsides? Taken together this could leave us with all of the existing problems plus a raft of new social and

Let’s understand the problems first

economic problems.

So before deciding that leaving the EU is the answer we should surely try to understand what the problems are? Brexiteers had all sorts of reasons for voting leave, ranging from a protest vote driven by a desire for change, through immigration to “let’s make Britain great again”. There is no doubt that real problems exist in the UK today; a deep seated grievance at the stark inequalities that exist. Politicians have for a long time used the EU as a lazy excuse for these problems, blaming EU buereaucracy, institutions, policy for everything, instead of actually addressing the real problems here at home. I believe we must understand how leaving the EU is going to help us solve these problems otherwise how do we know we have the right negotiating priorities?

So what are the real problems we are trying to solve? Here’s a starter for ten based on some of the issues raised in the Brexit campaign that, according to Brexiteers, would be solved by leaving the EU:

  • The NHS and social care
  • Jobs and low wages
  • Housing
  • Inequality
  • Benefits of globalization not shared
  • School places and the quality of education
  • British culture under attack
  • Unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy
  • What else?

I suggest that leaving the EU will NOT solve any of these directly and, more importantly, they are all issues caused by the combined policies of a succession of British governments and have little or nothing to do with EU membership. I will explore each of these in future blogs.

Imagine that!

The People Have Spoken

It’s June 11th 2017, shortly after an unnecessary British general election, and politics just became a little less cynical. The young have recognised the power they have and voted for hope and change.  The Labour Party have bypassed the right-wing media and made them impotent by speaking directly to people and by smart use of social media. People will no longer tolerate ‘business as usual’ austerity and the stupidity of a ‘hard Brexit’ appears much less likely.

This is the first ray of light after a long period of gloom and life suddenly feels much more hopeful.

But, the Tories attempts to retain power by ‘buying’ favours from the contemptible bigots in the DUP suggests cynicism is not dead yet. The DUP are a fringe party (they got 0.9% of the vote) but could have a disproportionate degree of power over the UK to push their illiberal views opposing abortion, LGBTQ rights, denying climate change and promoting creationism in schools.

Now is not the time for complacency. The election result was a real boost for a fairer, more decent country, but the real battles are still ahead. We have shown what can be achieved when we all stand up to be counted, we just need to keep on demanding the changes we deserve.