The Tories are still wedded to austerity. Looking at the real-life consequences of the cuts, Jim Scott argues that we need to get the Tories out now
Following eight years of austerity the wider consensus among British voters is that austerity has not worked, it has been damaging to our poorest citizens, it has weakened our public services and national debt has risen under the Conservatives – so most people are ready for a change of tack.
Falling through the cracks
Is it reasonable that as a society we allow people to fall through the cracks? And what would you do if that happened to you?
There is a saying; “Most ordinary people are only one payday away from homelessness or destitution”. Sadly, in the last ten years, for many families this has become far more than a sound bite, it’s become their bitter reality.
Firstly, you may think this does not apply to you; you might have savings, a good job, ISAs, a supportive family or a secure mortgage. And this may be true, you may be safe personally. But we all have friends, family, and colleagues who we care about who may not be in such a secure position as ourselves.
The concept of the welfare state and actually the NHS too, is simple: we all pay in, just like one very big insurance policy, and should the worst happen and if we ever need it we can all cash out on that policy. They are ‘societal safety nets’ so that any one of us is looked after should we have an accident at work or fall ill, or find ourselves unemployed.
It’s easy to look at statistics like the 120,000 deaths directly attributed to austerity, the 4 million children now living in poverty in Britain or the DPAC stats below and see them as just numbers. If it isn’t happening to you personally then it is quite understandable that you may not have a direct emotional response to such figures. However, for each of those statistics there is a person, a family, a child and for those people affected, their lives have been literally torn apart as a direct result of austerity.
Blair’s Labour Government kept the welfare state and our public services topped up with funds but they simultaneously allowed big business and the banks to run wild with our economy contributing to the economic crash. Since then though, under the Conservatives, we have seen cuts to every part of our social fabric on an unimaginable scale and the real-life consequences for many have been utterly devastating.
A new form of worker has emerged, the new army of zero-hours contract workers and workers within the gig-economy have become known as ‘The Precariat’, not knowing from one day to the next if they’ll have enough money to pay the rent or feed their kids.
The Tories know all this yet continue with austerity
Campaigns like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been on the front line of the campaign against austerity over the last 8 years. This Facebook post from Paula Peters, who is a DPAC activist and DPAC national committee member, shows just how desperate things have become for everyday people and the activists themselves who are fighting the cuts:
Peters touches on the stresses that financial hardship can create for people. That element alone has driven thousands of people to suicide in the last few years. Falling sick or having to give up work to care for a family member can trigger a chain reaction of events that are simply unimaginable to many of us. It’s also our most vulnerable citizens who are most at risk and the first to fall through the cracks as a result of the Conservative Government’s policies.
Often, people who already suffer from mental health conditions find themselves not only having their support removed but at the same time being put under huge financial stresses, finding themselves terrified of being unable to pay their rent or mortgage and ending up homeless on the streets with their family as every last piece of their support or financial assistance is removed.
The privatisation and austerity scam
It is perhaps unsurprising that Tory ministers who generally come from wealthy families and have attended very expensive schools with other very wealthy colleagues do not share an empathy for the many ordinary people whose lives have been devastated as a result of their policies, but the deeper issue here, I’m sad to say, is that policies like these are absolutely integral and hard-wired in to Conservative thinking, it’s simply in their DNA.
This is one example of how privatisation is ripping off the already underfunded NHS:
I was talking to a friend who works in an NHS Trust in London as a manager recently. He recounted a story of how one of the mainframe computers had developed a fault and that it was his job to oversee the repairs. It just so happened that a caretaker there was good with that sort of thing and mentioned that they knew what was wrong with the machine. So my friend posed them a question. He said “I actually have to use pre-authorised ‘NHS Framework providers’ (as they are known) and so must outsource all repairs like this to one of these private companies, but out of interest, if you were going to fix the machine yourself, how much might it cost?” The caretaker replied; “Well considering that I work here anyway, so I wouldn’t need to charge you for my labour, it would mean just the cost of the part that needs replacing, and I have just found that part online for just £8.60”.
Armed with this knowledge my friend sent out the tender for quotes from the authorised ‘NHS Framework Providers” that he has to use, and guess what, the cheapest quote that came back was for £860.00. A staggering one hundred times the cost of the part needed!
This story in itself is somewhat revealing and shines a powerful light on the reality of the Conservatives’ privatisation and austerity agenda.
The Tories believe wholeheartedly in privatisation of all public services, it’s one of the most integral and ideological components of their makeup. A large number of Tory MPs and Lords have personal financial interests in private healthcare companies as well as many other private interests, they directly profit from practices exactly like these and so do their wealthy friends. They believe in shrinking the state as much as possible via cuts to public services while privatising the remaining profits of which they themselves can hoover up the spoils. This is all based on the supposed principle of ‘trickle-down’ economics, which does not work and never has, hence the wealth gap and inequality has sky-rocketed under the Tories, with richest seeing their wealth triple in 8 years while families face destitution, poverty, homelessness and foodbanks.
Caring for each other is just common sense
There is nothing radical about us looking after our neighbour, our disabled friend, or protecting our kid’s futures; or for us to defend our NHS or to live in a society where if the worst should happen and you fall ill, that you are looked after and that you don’t fall through the cracks into destitution, homelessness or even worse as a result.
There are plenty of common sense policies emerging from the left which deal with all these issues and aim to rebuild our social fabric and return us to the kind of society that looks out for each other and does not allow people to be left behind.
The problem with Conservatism is that it is a beast that must be fed. Corporate donors expect their support to be reflected on their balance sheets, and that means lower-pay, zero-hours contracts, and a terrifyingly precarious existence for thousands of people around Britain. It means people like your daughter, your friend, your uncle and his family forced into the indignity of using foodbanks or a disabled person having their mobility allowance removed.
I believe that it is our duty to look out for our most vulnerable members of society and to protect everyone from being forced into this new ‘precariat’ form of existence. One thing that the last eight years has surely taught us, is that the Tories won’t stop this until they are stopped. Their 2018 conference hall may be sparse in numbers, and in contrast, the packed out Labour conference shows that public consciousness is shifting towards that of a decent, fairer and more equal society, but the Tories will not stop until we stop them.
The Tories staying in power really does mean life or death for many. Our foremost priority has to be getting the Tories out and that means strengthening the mass movement against austerity, building groups like DPAC and the People's Assembly Against Austerity and piling on the pressure for a general election now.
Jim Scott is a rural activist, Eco-Socialist and writer, fighting austerity in Pembrokeshire.
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