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Austerity was morally and economically wrong

When the Tories returned to power in 2010, backed by the LibDems in a coalition, they imposed an austerity programme of cuts in spending. That programme is said to come to an end today, with the announcement of a new expenditure round by Chancellor Sajid Javed. 

What was 'austerity' to achieve? It achieved very little for the many, and it drove so many into poverty, homelessness and debt. It forced people into poverty wages and zero-hour contracts. It closed libraries up and down the country. It has driven local authorities towards bankruptcy, with failing social and children's services.   

The government said it was aimed to 'cut the deficit', but austerity was always more than pure economics. It was fundamentally political. They did more than impose cuts across the social sector. They created a narrative of the 'undeserving' and the 'deserving' poor.

The Conservative Party adopted an aggressive set of campaign advertisements targeted at 60 constituencies contrasting "hard-working families" and "people who don't work". This divisive advertising was their attempt to label the unemployed as lazy 'benefit scroungers'. It demonstrated how little they understood the relationship between unemployment and poverty. 

We no longer hear this language, but it still underpins the Tory approach. The poor are responsible for their poverty.  

The 2017 general election result and the Tories losing their majority reflects a growing rejection of this Tory narrative. Voters, at last, were angry at a government that claimed it was imposing cuts out of necessity to balance the books, and yet had transferred wealth to the richest with tax cuts. 

That is a reality now recognised by Johnson, which is why austerity is over. He now needs to buy votes. They mocked Jeremy Corbyn's spending plans in the last election. There was no 'magic money tree' they said. But it was a strategy with partial success. Corbyn's anti-austerity message had hit home, and here is a fear in the Tory party that this could repeat. 

The notion that there are 'hard-working families' and 'people who don't work' assumes these groups exist as separate social groups. One result of the financial crisis and recession was that hard-working families were affected. Company failures, factory closures and lay-offs didn't just impact on 'scroungers'. Thus the results of austerity have been so devastating. It is indiscriminate in its effect. It is also why austerity doesn't work. It drives hard-working families, into poverty. 

Much of the cause of our social and political landscape and the divisions stem from this decade of austerity. 

Austerity was wrong, politically, socially, and economically. Unemployment is a key driver of poverty. Two-thirds of working-age adults in families where one or more of the adults are unemployed are poor. Unemployment, particularly long term unemployment, grinds away devastatingly on families creating poor housing, poor diet and ill-health. It leads to a cycle of debt and targets for loan sharks, and homelessness, eviction, repossession. It destroys lives. It leads to a loss of dignity and well being.

Thus it was unethical of the government to target those most affected by austerity, branding them as work-shy scroungers and attempting to turn those better off against them. 

The former Tory leader, Mr Cameron once said 'we are all in this together', yet the unemployed and those receiving benefits became scapegoats for the failure of their economic policies. 

In the aftermath of the riots of August 2011, the Prime Minister said: "This is a country of good people". Their political strategy assumed a country of 'good' and 'bad' people; those who have been 'good'; those wihout were 'bad'; 'strivers' and 'shirkers'. It was an offensive strategy because they knew this is not true. It was cynical politics. 

Ending austerity, if genuine, is to be welcomed. But it is likely to be another cynical ploy to cover the tragedy of a failing Brexit strategy.  


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