Are These Eighties-Style Cuts Really Necessary?

20/12/2010 17:22 | Updated 22 May 2015

Before the last election, I was not in love with the Labour government. Yes, I had helped vote them in, staying up all night in the student bar to watch the British map turn from blue to red. But like many I had become disillusioned as 'New Labour' shifted ever further from a party I had hoped would championed equality and human rights to one that seemed to lose no sleep over aping Tory rhetoric.

I was, however, frightened in some visceral way of what might happen if the Conservatives ever got back in. Having spent my formative years adorning my second-hand waistcoats with every anti-Thatcher badge ever printed and marching against education cuts, nuclear spending and government support for apartheid South Africa, I was never exactly a fan of her party.

Now that they are in power again, albeit in an unlikely coalition with the Lib Dems, I am depressed to watch my fears coming true. The Eighties seem to be back in fashion in politics as well on the high street. Now, as then, the most vulnerable in our society are the first in the firing line. Anyone would think it was those on low incomes, those bringing up children alone and those looking for a job in this difficult climate who caused our enormous deficit, and not those in the highest paid echelons of the global economy.

The chancellor George Osborne has so far announced cuts of £4bn from welfare spending and government departments are bracing themselves for cuts of up to 40 per cent. A TUC study out this week found that the cuts will hit the poorest ten times harder than the richest, as the healthcare, education and transport services they rely on are slashed. The young, too, are suffering. The unemployment rate amongst under-18s [link B] is already 33 per cent. For those without GCSEs and from ethnic minority groups, it is more than 50 per cent – a fact Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbot [link C] sought to draw attention to on Tuesday. So much for the government's mantra that "we're all in this together".

All of which might be marginally more bearable if these cuts were really necessary to dig ourselves out of our financial black hole. But are they? A growing body of respected economists suggests not. Attacking the public sector in this way, they argue, is more likely to deepen the recession than ease it, as the thousands who will lose their jobs as a result of government cuts start signing on and stop spending. Even the International Monetary Fund [link D] and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have warned that cuts in government spending will derail economic recovery and result in "tragedy" for millions of young people.

This government wants us to believe that it is like a doctor, bravely administering a bitter, but necessary, pill, to ease our financial suffering. I think it's more like a thug, heartlessly slicing away what's left of this country's social fabric and then blaming its victims for their own suffering. Gripped with collective amnesia about the true causes of this financial crisis, we seem to be letting them. Maybe it's time to print some new political badges and start marching.

By: Laura Smith


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