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Olympic Dreams, Titanic Cuts

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It's ironic that Team GB's amazing hoard of gold and other Olympic medals has come at just the time when the Coalition government's austerity measures are set to devastate the future of sports funding in Britain.

It's taken the Olympic Games to bring the issue of youth sports funding cuts to the nation's attention, with the head of the British Olympic Association calling for government policy to change, and the prime minister expressing embarrassment at the low proportion of Olympic medals delivered by athletes who didn't go to public schools. I'm entirely glad that this issue has been raised, because sport is important for a whole range of reasons. But of course we don't have, for example, a high-profile world-wide homelessness event to draw attention to the fact that homelessness in the UK has increased by 25% in three years. Nor do we have a multi-billion-pound international learning tournament to highlight the fact that Coalition funding cuts have forced 150 UK libraries to close or be run by volunteers, with 225 more libraries at risk, and so far 2,100 library jobs lost.

If Britain's pride in future Olympic Games looks set to be dented because the current government's austerity measures will harm developments in sport and the training of athletes, what of our pride in other things? We used to be justly proud of the NHS. Now we're watching it being dismantled, not because we can't afford it but because of neo-liberal ideology shared by the three biggest political parties - the three parties which, for instance, gave us the Private Finance Initiative so that we can pay four times as much as we should for a hospital, while saddling the health service with huge debts for decades.

There are lots of things we could be proud of in Britain. Even acknowledging significant room for improvement, we had a system of support for disabled people that was better than many countries offered. But we're dismantling it, forcing disabled people onto the dole queue. We had a reasonable benefits safety net, but thanks to the austerity agenda we're dismantling that, too, effectively blaming unemployment on the unemployed and forcing people to try to get jobs that aren't actually there.

In my view the austerity agenda is devastating this country socially and economically - but the cuts are driven by ideology, not necessity. Top economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman has pointed out the alternative. And Krugman has history on his side when he says austerity policies do not work. Look at the Great Depression. Look at the major crisis over debt in the developing world in 1982, and Mexico in 1994, and the Asian crisis in 1997, and Brazil and Russia in 1998, and Argentina in 2002. History shows that when you get a crisis-stricken country and force it to cut spending and run budget surpluses, you will see its economy sink deeper into recession.

We need to remember this as we approach the next general election in 2015. The Green Party's last general election manifesto took the existing government's budget and proceeded to show not only that we could sustain existing levels of spending on public services, but also how we could afford to pay for a Green New Deal - a plan to invest massively in a new technological revolution as the way to make our economy sustainable. This Green New Deal would quickly create over a million new jobs and training places, would trigger a new industrial revolution and would help re-balance the UK economy.

A significant source of potential income is a crackdown on tax avoidance and tax evasion. The Green Party took a conservative estimate that £10-13bn a year could be raised this way. Since then it has been reliably calculated that the UK loses £69.9bn a year due to tax avoidance.

When you think that Michael Gove wanted to cut £162m a year off the national network of School Sports Partnerships, supposedly because we can't afford it, but that the UK is reckoned to lose £190m to tax avoidance every day, this puts things into perspective.

Is Britain really going to be the country that celebrated its best ever success in the Olympic Games by devastating sports funding in subsequent years?

Or are we going to maintain funding for sports even as austerity measures destroy our public services and deepen the recession?

Or instead, can we be the country that learned from history - that austerity measures are good only for inflicting Titanic-scale damage on our society?

Some of us are determined to fight this corner between now and 2015. I wouldn't underestimate the amount of effort and dedication it will take. But I do believe it's a torch worth carrying. Because if Britain stays on the path of austerity, we have a lot more to lose than our standing in the 2016 Olympic medal tables.

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