THE BLOG
16/02/2016 07:28 GMT | Updated 13/02/2017 05:12 GMT

The Conservatives Are Forcing Us to Accept Less State Support - But It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Asked by Blackadder what he would do with a thousand pounds Baldrick, not exactly the Icarus of British television characters, responds that he would "get a little turnip of my own". Exasperated, Blackadder then asks him what he would do with a million pounds. Baldrick, excited by the prospect, says he would "buy a big turnip in the country."

Sadly most of us do not have the simple ambitions of Baldrick, a man whose life goals centred around the acquisition of a tasteless vegetable. Years of research has shown that as our income increases so too do our expectations and the material resources we need to make ourselves feel happy. In fact, one famous study was able to show that a year after having their numbers picked lottery winners were no happier than people who had suffered catastrophic accidents at around the same time. Happiness really is relative.

As this experiment showed, our ability to adjust our expectations to our surroundings is a useful trait. It means that when the chips are down, we can adapt.

But, in the context of the current Conservative government it could be making us dangerously complacent.

I hardly need to go over the devastating assault on our basic rights that has been unleashed by the present administration. They are destroying public social care. They are returning the welfare state back to the condition it was in during the Victorian era (i.e. when there wasn't one). They are eroding hard-fought rights by attacking trade unions and charities and disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of voters. All the while, they are neglecting our country and planet's ecosystem, putting the profits of gas and nuclear energy companies before the interests of our environment.

The problem is that we have been so overwhelmed by this assault from central government we are no longer shocked when another basic right gets flushed down the drain. It's not just satire that this government is intent on killing: they are annihilating any expectation we have that politicians are on our side and that government can, should, or could do anything to help us. Tired indifference is probably the best way of describing the public's attitude now.

The impact of this process can be seen by the fact that Osborne poured so much self-adulation on himself for graciously allowing councils to raise tax by a paltry 2% in case they don't have the money they need to fund essential social care services. Phwoar, he's like a modern day Mother Teresa. It's shown in the media's response to any policy proposal from Corbyn: one would have thought the idea of investing in welfare, allowing government to run essential services, or taxing the rich shouldn't be too controversial rather than being seen as the ramblings of a rabid communist. It's revealed in the fact that people with disabilities and mental health problems are being forced to accept such an appalling standard of living that they are coming to see suicide as their only option.

Of course it never had to be this way. Austerity, let's not forget, is nothing more than a political narrative. By accepting the Conservative story of austerity we implicitly say it is okay for the burden of responsibility for stabilising our economy to fall on everyone's shoulders. We could have written a quite different narrative - one that says the super wealthy should cough up or that we need a fundamental rethink about our economic priorities so that we put informal care, housework, and projects that create happier and sustainable communities on an equal pedestal with more "traditional" industries.

But, we didn't and the result is that we are now grappling with a new age of politics in which it seems everyone's wellbeing, from the disabled to those with acute mental health problems, is fair game. Does it have to be this way? Do we have to have to tacitly accept the ruin of our fundamental rights? I don't think so. I'd argue that in our big society (without the capitals) it's easier for people to overlook the suffering of the most vulnerable. That's not because we are inherently selfish, it's just harder to know what one can do for people we have never met and who appear to face incurable problems.

But, in recent weeks the tide has been turning. The Conservative-dominated Local Government Association has warned that as the impact of the cuts to councils begins to really hit home, everyone, from rich to poor, will feel the shockwaves: children's centres will close, street lights will be turned off, rubbish will pile up as the binmen are laid off. David Cameron's mum might not be the first Tory to rebel and say enough is enough. Unless we see significant economic growth over the coming few years, growth which would allow councils to raise funds through local business rates, the core services we all rely upon will be hollowed out. As the impacts of this government's reforms begin to hit home, we could all be given a very rough wake up call.