It is surely time for something other than austerity to solve the United Kingdom’s economic woes and the Budget in a few days’ time should not impose any more cuts on the circumstances of ordinary people.
Whatever politicians say when they find themselves in opposition, there has been consensus among the main political parties in this country and around the world that austerity is the answer to the recession and the debt crisis. Those who disagreed, like poor President Hollande in France, have been forced to make deep cuts by the realities of office. Some who agreed, like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, have been freed to disown their former policy by the lack of responsibility of Opposition.
It is a truism that austerity bears down most on ordinary working families, the weakest and poorest, because they make most use of the public services austerity measures cut. The rich do not use public services, or not as much as the rest of us and probably do not rely on them.
The recession and debt crisis was not caused by those of use who use and rely on public services. It was caused by those who do not.
This does not mean that public spending can never be cut. That would be nonsense. It means that care has to be taken to protect those most vulnerable, to cut only where necessary and find alternatives for those most affected. It means schemes should not be set up in the first place without proper funding. The coalition has put in place protections and been right to cut or remedy schemes Labour set up without adequate funding – as with paying for NHS growth by increasing National Insurance.
Some of the government’s cuts, like ending Sure Start and regional development agencies in England, look like naked Conservative ideology or spite, rather than part of the solution to the nation’s problems. Some, like the cuts in the armed forces, police and education are downright irresponsible and dangerous.
Despite what the Prime Minister says , it looks obvious to most people that the burden of fixing the nation’s economy is being carried more by the poor and working people than by the rich. Middle earners in the public sector have had their pay frozen, but top earners’ bonuses have not been frozen and, despite his own failure, the Prime Minister opposed the European Union’s cap on bonuses .
This might be excused, if austerity was working. It plainly is not. Yesterday (9 March 2013), Robert Chote the chairman of the independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility wrote to the Prime Minister to say that austerity – “consolidation” – measures by the coalition and the Labour government have reduced GDP in 2011-12 by 1.4%. Economic growth has been weaker since 2010 than the Office of Budgetary Responsibility and most other forecasters expected.
It is time for a genuine one nation approach to solving the United Kingdom’s problems, one not driven by Tory ideology, albeit moderated by the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat ideas, albeit moderated by the Conservatives, might just do the trick, starting in the Budget in a few days’ time with the capital investment in housing and infrastructure called for by Business Secretary Vince Cable.
At the very least, the Budget should do no further harm to the lives of working families, the poor and the vulnerable.