People vs Austerity: An Assembly of Hope

Two years on and we find ourselves further burdened by cuts and now reeling from the impact of a Tory government, Conned once again by our broken electoral system. So what's the alternative?We organise. We march. We stand.

Allow me a moment of doom and gloom. £12billion in welfare cuts. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), described by the Executive Director of War on Want as 'an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations'. Despite major opposition and the frank reality of rising temperatures worldwide, a relentless pursuit of fracking in the UK, with David Cameron going so far as to argue that shale gas will actually 'tackle climate change'. Attempts to scrap the Human Rights Act. I think you get the idea.

Now back to the welfare cuts. Austerity, defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'Difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure' doesn't tell us much at all. This definition says nothing of the people made homeless by welfare cuts, nothing of the differently abled person who is forced to jump hoops to pay for basic necessities like rent, heating, water and food. (In fact, a third of disabled adults already live in poverty in the UK.) It describes public expenditure, but not public loss.

It also says nothing of the 1.1m people who used food banks last year, or the 19% year on year increase in people reliant on donations of food. Studies have linked food poverty to cuts in spending on local services, welfare benefits and higher unemployment rates, but the government doesn't believe the science, or in common sense, apparently.

With this in mind I think I can be forgiven for stating that austerity measures require an austere response from the British public.

Thankfully there are many campaigns forming and protests taking place across the UK with this in mind, including regional People's Assembly protests that will culminate in the End Austerity Now national demonstration on June 20th in London. In February 2013 The Guardian newspaper printed an open letter that called for a People's Assembly Against Austerity, headed by Tony Benn and opening with the sentence: 'This is a call to all those millions of people in Britain who face an impoverished and uncertain year as their wages, jobs, conditions and welfare provision come under renewed attack by the government.' The letter is signed by notable signatories and many organisations.

Two years on and we find ourselves further burdened by cuts and now reeling from the impact of a Tory government, Conned once again by our broken electoral system.

So what's the alternative?

We organise. We march. We stand. We stand for the most marginalised and most vulnerable people in our society, for those most in need of aid. We stand for equality, for tax loopholes and tax havens to be closed, for the £120 billion of evaded and avoided tax by the super-rich to be reclaimed. According to The Centre for Welfare Reform the poorest 10% of families in Britain pay the highest percentage of their overall income in taxes (45%).

We stand for an increase of tax on the super-rich and city of London, a new minimum wage that corresponds with The Living Wage, an end to zero hour contacts. We stand for affordable social housing, the abolition of the bedroom tax, the end of housing evictions brought about by the recession, and for rent controls in the private sector.

We want our public services back. We want an end to all forms of privatisation and profit that takes from our public services, an end to the cost of war in blood and money, and end to the £100bn Trident nuclear weapons programme. We want all this and more.

No one is claiming that protesting will achieve all these aims, or that a rally will ignite a revolution (although it has been known to happen). Unsurprisingly, The Telegraph newspaper criticises the People's Assembly movement based on a single demonstration where the journalist scoffs at protestor's clothes and makes broad generalisations about the failures of 'the Left'. But the scoffers don't experience the powerful networking that goes on at protests and rallies, or the feeling of strength in unity, in numbers. They don't witness the rolling impact of a demonstration on an individual or group's motivation to act, or the power of simply standing together in order to stand for something better.

Jo Mezzetti, one of the organisers of the Devon People's Assembly rally taking place in Exeter on June 13th, told me that she is: 'deeply concerned about this government's policy of austerity and the narrow parameters of the current national conversation around spending. Soaring homelessness, people relying on food banks to feed their families, lack of access to proper justice due to cuts to legal aid, the closing of community centres and crisis centres, loss of autonomy for people denied disability benefits; these are just some examples of the suffering that has already been caused by austerity. Things will only get worse unless we send a clear message that we will not tolerate the erosion of this country's crucial safety nets.'

Assembling is only the beginning. If this government continues its cull* in the name of austerity, then in the late Tony Benn's words:

'If one meets a powerful person ask them five questions: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?" If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.'

A more equal, fair, democratic system? I can certainly stand for that.


*An estimated 15,000 people died from fuel poverty alone in 2014 the UK.

The People's Assembly Against Austerity:

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