How far will we go with Austerity?

July 13, 2012 9:40 am

It’s been two years. Austerity is well under way, and already, cuts that would have been unthinkable before, ease through with barely a murmur. I think we are more likely to think “Thank God it’s not me this time” than “Oh no! Those poor people!”

If we look back just two short years, the idea that hospitals would be closing, handed over to private contractors would have been laughable during the election campaigns. Widow’s benefits taken away, cancer patients to go to the job centre, Sure Start Centres closing – would we honestly have voted as we did if there had been any kind of honest debate? If we’d really known what austerity
meant?

But now we do know and we become more desensitized by the day. We find ever more creative excuses, we turn, neighbour on neighbour, poor on poor rather than believe them just as “deserving” as us. And we must be so, so careful, for once we allow ourselves to be desensitized, we will allow and excuse so much more.

A few weeks ago, there was a case of self-immolation outside a Birmingham job centre. After his benefits were cut, a man became so desperate that he set himself on fire. On a comment thread, a friend told me in shock that someone had excused it by saying “it wasn’t real self-immolation, he only set his legs on fire. “

This has troubled me ever since. What won’t we support? How far will we let things go?

A report released yesterday, “Past Caring” considers plans by Worcester County Council to introduce a “Maximum Expenditure Policy” when caring for disabled residents. We become desensitized in lots of ways. A “Maximum Expenditure Policy” is of course a cap, but language makes the unpalatable so much more bearable.

Effectively, the council are proposing to pay so much for social care and no more, whatever the disability whatever the needs, once the cap is reached, that is that.

Depending on how desensitized you already are, this might sound prudent. Until you wonder, for just a second what happens if care costs do exceed the “Maximum Expenditure Policy”

For this part, you need to know just a little about the history of rights for sick disabled people. For decades, there has been one overriding objective. One goal : Independent Living. For 40 or 50 years, sick and disabled people around the world have fought for independence. Simply for the right to live as anyone might. They have fought to have a home and to live in that home wherever possible. They have argued that independent living is fundamental to the integration and equality of people with disabilities.

It is only a decade or two since they opened the doors on institutions. Only a few short years since most disabled people got the chance to live independently. Only a few decades since this simple freedom was enshrined in UK, European and International law.

Well, Worcester Council’s plans effectively mean that thousands of local disabled residents could be forced from their own homes and into “residential care”. Or, if we call it what it really is, back into institutions.

The legality is dubious enough. “Past Caring” goes on to highlight how choosing to institutionalise disabled residents purely on cost grounds would appear to break just about every human rights convention there is. But that’s OK, because “Human Rights” are just something that make the Daily Mail froth at the mouth. Human Rights allow terrorists to live in mansions in Islington. We have been
so effectively desensitized on this one, that we instinctively flinch away from the mere mention of Human Rights.

Even now, you might be ready to leave a comment below. Something along the lines of “Well, if it’s cheaper for Worcester council to care for “these people” in “residential care” then it seems a sensible measure to me.”

To those people I ask them to consider the suggestion that it is simply too expensive to teach our children in normal schools any more. Imagine the announcement that a series of institutions would be built around the country, your children will be taken away to live in them and if not, they will have to choose to either starve or go unwashed and undressed.

If we remove the word “disability” from the examples it’s unthinkable isn’t it? What we choose for our own children is so easy to cast aside if we just make it about “the other,” if it doesn’t affect us. But Worcester affects all of us. If we take this step, then it makes it just a little easier to take the next. And the next. And the next

  • ThePurpleBooker

    I’m afraid we need to be clear on deficit reduction. There would be fiscal constraint under Labour and cuts and tax rises will have to take place. Though we are against the current speed and depth of cuts we’d still have to make cuts too. It’s about time we start talking about that as well as our policies on growth and jobs.

    • derek

      “There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
      But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
      If you want to be like the folks on the hill”

      • treborc

         But you’re still Fecking peasants as far as I can see

        A working class hero is something to be

    • Alan Giles

      Not at the expense of the disabled and sick. Society has certain things – like adequate health and social care, free public libraries and so on because we are a civilised society (just about – still).

      As regards the “speed and depth”   really what the right wing of Labour are saying is that they don’t much disagree with the fiscal and social policies of the Coalition, they would just seem that much “nicer” if Byrne rather than Grayling or Duncan-Smith were implementing them.

      As we didn’t have that oft- boasted “end to boom and bust” what a great pity Blair/Brown threw so much money at unwinnable wars in their glory days.

      • http://twitter.com/mistyblulabour dave stone

        “ what a great pity Blair/Brown threw so much money at unwinnable wars in their glory days.”

        That’s a good point well made. Economist Joseph Stiglitz made a useful contribution to this debate, explaining how the Iraq war deepened the economic crisis and diminished our capacity to respond to the crisis*.

        Blairites get starry eyed on New Labour’s economic ‘credibility’ but one increasingly feels their declarations have become like those self-improvement mantras some choose to repeat in front of the mirror each morning: frequent affirmation is needed simply because of the contradiction with actuality.

        *http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/03/AR2010090302200.html

        • aracataca

          Yes but Stiglitz has retained enough of his Keynesian orthodoxy to suggest that we should start paying down the deficit if/when we are experiencing growth again. 

          • http://twitter.com/mistyblulabour dave stone

            I wouldn’t disagree with you there – though don’t go all the way with Keynesian orthodoxy. What I’m trying to say is that when attempting to match priorities to resources (re Sue above) let’s make all efforts to calculate outcomes, both intended and otherwise, rather than depend on a  head-in-the-sand ‘I only know what I believe’ approach – that’s not good enough when the consequences are clearly serious.

        • derek

          *Starry* *Starry* eyes! they didn’t listen then, they aren’t listening now, perhaps they never will!!!!! 

      • aracataca

        As an ‘interested’ Green can you confirm that you wouldn’t agree with the Irish Green Party’s policy of ending free healthcare for OAPs which, as you now know, they enacted in 2009, or their approval in 2010 for drastic cuts to old age pensions and welfare payments to families with children. 

        You will of course know that the Green Party in Ireland were enthusiastic supporters of austerity after they and their coalition partners Fianna Fail bankrupted the country by putting the debts of their friends -the Irish banks- on the country’s government balance sheet.

        Any suggestion that on this issue, as with so many others, the Green Party are full of s**t is, and must remain, pure speculation. Agreed?

        • Alan Giles

          William. I am not Irish, I don’t live in Ireland, and have never been to Ireland. If I am allowed to say it, I am not interested in Irish politics. Therefore I know nothing about Irish politics – a fault on my part, perhaps, but if honesty was essential on LL I dont suppose I am alone.

          Perhaps you are Irish yourself since you devote so much time and energy to persuing me on this? Or perhaps you just continue to go after me because I have expressed interest in the British Green Party?

          Certainly there are many others apart from me, who do not share your right-wing views, but it seems to be only me and your friend Dore go persuing.

          I make no apology for taking an interest in the Green party locally: The way you witter on about it you would imagine I was supporting the EDL or BNP. If certain sections of the Greens were more pragmatic I think they could become a very important force in left-wing politics in Britain – probably more so than the ultra-cautious “New Labour with Added Blair” brand being touted by some of you.

          I take no lectures from you on what I think or believe, and, quite frankly, when I see the attitude of some “Labour” supporters on LL I sometimes wonder just how genuine their commitment is. Mine started in 1963, and in recent years has been dented by the ToryLite policies of Blair and Brown. I was hoping Ed Miliband might have steered us in a new direction, but events this week seems to show he is going after a NL rebrand. Not for me, I’m afraid.

          • aracataca

            Green? Around the gills you old bugger! Green around the gills!

          • Alan Giles

            It is a bit early to be drinking, William. Or “arataca” or “BOConnor”"

            A man with three screen names and barely a brain cell.

          • aracataca

            Yes AG. Somebody is pretending to me.

          • treborc

             yes you, you silly nappy rash kid

    • aracataca

      Yes PB but not yet. We should of course cut the deficit. No government can run a budget deficit of this size indefinitely. There is of course also scope to raise tax levels and for some inflation to be reintroduced into our economy to get it down. Check out the ideas of the man who gave advanced capitalist economies their longest period of economic growth(1947-1973 ) and put an end to mass absolute poverty in the Western world, namely John Maynard Keynes.

  • Golookgoread

    I have just checked out the political composition of Worcestershire County Council and its different wards here:
    worcestershire.gov.uk/website/Elections/result2009.aspx
    This is a decision by councilors of a majority Conservative Party County Council and here are some of the names of these ideologically fascist, snob, prejudiced councillors:
    George Lord (the leader), Barry Gandy, Peter Gretton, Brandon Clayton and Jane Potter… plus their Liberal Democrat partner Elizabeth Tucker.   I am naming and shaming here.

  • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

    The Purple Booker – I may be partial, but if I were to sit and write a new tract on how society should be reformed, I would start with the very clear principle that the sick, disabled, children and the elderly are looked after with dignity and wherever possible live lives of value and inclusion. 

    The rest is just paperwork if we truly want a society in which we can hold our heads high

    What’s more, so much of the other tinkering we currently believe necessary may not be if we listened to our elders, treated them with respect, listened to sick and disabled people who live very different lives and have so much knowledge and wisdom to share, and ensured our children grew up in safety and security.  

    • The Purple Booker

      Without the fit and successful and the strong everything fails. We have to transfer money away from the weak and the unfit to the fit and the strong or we are all doomed. Like Sparta we have to discard the sub-standard and the broken. There is no choice. It’s nature and Labour.

      • Alan Giles

        I don’t knowe about “Purple Booker” that sounded more like “Purple Hitler”.

        You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Especially to say it knowing the author  of the piece is disabled herself.

        • ThePurpleBooker

          Considering you wrote that comment, Alan  I think it says more about you. I am addressed “ThePurpleBooker”. That is done on purpose. You are not a very bright man, Alan. By the way, I am Jewish.

          • The Rabbi

            Mazel Tov!

          • Alan Giles

            I most certainly didn’t write that foul comment – it was a response to a truly disgusting post signed “The Purple Booker”, and given your right wing stance it was not inconceivable you might have written, since we know benefit claimants are one of your bete noirs.

            Perhaps you should revert to “Labour Right Toughie” which you toyed with for a couple of hours. Or, better still, why not find the courage to use your real name?

          • ThePurpleBooker

            You wrote that foul comment and signed it under the post “The Purple Booker”. I always sign my comments as “ThePurpleBooker”. It is you who makes these pejorative remarks about benefit claimants others and sign them off. I am not Labour Right Toughie, there was confusing. You never tell ‘treborc’ to use his real name? You are a vile human being, Alan Giles. Are you going to apologise for imposing as myself and your rudeness over Nazism.

          • Alan Giles

            If you REALLY believe I wrote that comment, I would ask you to contact Mark Ferguson and he can see, from the unique number each computer has, that it was not me who sent it.

            I don’t play games, so I have only one screen name. And if you are not “Labour Right Toughie” perhaps you8 can explain why you posted under that name several times last week and you never denied authorship at the time.

            Before you go round calling anybody eelse “vile” you need to look inwards, pal

          • Alan Giles

            Click on “Purple Bookers” avatar on his somewhat offensive message (where I am “vile”) and what comes up?

            LABOUR RIGHT TOUGHIE

            What games is this twit playing?

      • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

        Don’t rise to this anyone, please don’t answer. It is clearly designed to get everyone talking about Nazis to stir things up. 

      • ThePurpleBooker

        People faking others accounts is just weak and wrong. I do not believe that at all.

      • Macro

        Whether this is some kind of a joke, or trolling, or fakery, or impersonation, or whatever, it IS pretty much what IS going on as far as all political parties are concerned isn’t it? The British Medical Association condemns the Work Capability Assessment but it still goes on. Expert opinion and the charities condemn the way welfare is being reformed and the parties clamour for more. The needy and the vulnerable ARE being put to the metaphorical sword and Labour are as eager as the Conservatives to spill more blood.

        Shame on all politicians for initiating and sustaining the slaughter. 

  • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

    Treborc – For goodness sake, you’re like a stuck record! Everyone knows Labour were bad too, no-one denies it. Yet you deflect every discussion on anything at all with “Labour were just as bad” Well yes, but they’re not in power – they won’t be for 3 more years. 

    • Timmo

      Im glad Treborc sounds like a stuck record, people should be reminded that it was labour who got atos involved and this was before the financial crash, millionaire Edward Miliband and all of the shadow cabinet were there and said nothing they just continued with their orders.

    • treborc

      My comment is about labour councils doing the same as Tory councils, if your going to attack the Tories make sure they are not the same as the labour.

      I’m of course not interested in being in labour or looking to move up through the political ranks of the party, I left.

      But if you cannot see the problems with Welfare and labour let me help you.

      Blair brought in welfare reforms because he thought millions of people were on welfare  to keep down unemployment both he and Thatcher had used that method.

      Purnell and Freud were the Architects of welfare reforms, Freud went back home to the Tories.

      Today the two architects of Welfare reforms are now making the Policies  for labour Blair and Purnell, and the bloke who is the opposition Minister is the one and only right winger Byrne.

      Byrne Blair and Purnell and your worried about Cameron .

      Three years will be nothing if we have another five years of Byrne Purnell and Blair, Rose tinted glasses

  • Losange

    Why isn’t the Labour Party making a case for a more enlightened, equal, and compassionate society in the way that it used to? When did the Party become so craven, cowardly, and lost? 

  • PeterBarnard

    Good writing as usual, Sue Marsh.

    I think that one thing that older property-owning people are going to have to get used to is releasing equity from their houses to go towards care. Even Michael Portillo (last night on Andrew Neill/This Week) was quite critical of the attitude that people want care but also want to leave the whole of their estate to their children.

    Years ago, the children were expected to look after their parents in old age. So-called social mobility and, especially, children living miles away from their parents have reduced this capability.

    The politics around care of the elderly are (shall we say) “challenging” but they will have to be faced. My own feeling is that since the need for care is one of life’s chances, it’s an insurance proposition and the most effective and efficient insurer around is HM Government. In other words, care costs should be funded by general taxation.

  • LaurenceB

    Is Labour for abolishing the ATOS test now then?

  • http://www.themoronmormon.com/ TheMoronMormon

    Jesus, The  ‘Maximum Expenditure Policy’, Whats Nxt Putting the Disabled In Communal Hostels… er, Like We Do For Currently Do For Teenage Single Mothers In Hastings?
     What Is Not sinking Into The Coalition Is Austerity Without A Genuine, Sophisticated Plan For Growth Leads To Economic Stagnation.
    Superb Article BTW.

    • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

      Thank you :)

  • hp

    Please keep up:  this is not ‘austerity’.
    Government spending is still higher than we can afford.
    We are slowly, painfully working our way back to economic reality.
    There are more spending cuts to come.
    As a taxpayer with kids, I see deficit reduction as a necessary evil.

    • LaurenceB

      I reckon that the people who will end up evicted and losing their homes in 2013 when their housing benefit is cut because they have a spare room or whatever probably will feel as if they ARE living in times of austerity. People facing situations like that most likely won’t think that we’re all in it together or that cutting the deficit in double-quick time is worth such awful pain and misery.

      • hp

        Yep.
        There is only so much to go round.
        If you want public money to go into your pocket, then you have to explain why that is more important than the other things is could be spent on.
        We have to be honest about what we have to spend, and decide what is the best way to spend it. 

        • LaurenceB

          Making people homeless and taking money away from sick and disabled children isn’t being done in my name, sport. As far as money in my pocket goes I’d empty mine rather than see sick crap like this happening and predict a backlash against the Coalition when people realise what is actually going on and how bloody useless and ineffective the Coalition’s programme is as far as getting us out of the sh*t goes. What is happening now is NOT being done in my name or with my approval: if it all of this abuse and misuse of the poor, needy, sick, young and disabled had been spelled out to the electorate BEFORE the last general election David Cameron wouldn’t be Prime Minister now. 

        • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

          Meanwhile, Gideon pumps 10 more billions into state owned banks with no more than a gentleman’s agreement. The banks still won’t lend the money because he’s  not forcing them and all it will do is make appalling balance sheets look everso slightly less appalling.

          • John Dore

            Sue the alternative is economic collapse, we pumped the money in as well.

            One thing is for sure nobody has presented an answer just yet.

    • Estherpage

      Hope you or your kids are never disabled then!

      • hp

        Personally, I am up for spending more on disabled kids.  I would increase spending on that, and spend less on housing benefit.  Every time we decide to fund something, we have to decide not to fund something else.
        Hopefully we are starting to realise that Government is about chosing what to spend our limited resources on.  There is no magic money tree.

        • LaurenceB

          There was enough in the kitty, apparently, to give the richest people in the country a 5% cut in their income tax!

          • Small Daniels

            That’s tragic!

  • Amber Star

    Hi Sue,

    I read this & your article on the same subject in the Guardian. Some of the comments – especially on Cif – are unbelievable! Comments like: ’I can’t choose how I want to live, so why should disabled people have a choice?’ As if people with disabilities had chosen to be disabled!!! I gave up reading the comments; sorry, but it was like playing Spot the Sociopath.

    Anyway, enough about them - great writing by you, here & in the Guardian.

    • http://twitter.com/suey2y Sue Marsh

      Thank you lovely! 

      How’s the state of the union? Any chance of an Amber snapshot of Labour, Ed & Ed? 

      • Amber Star

        OMG, you are a mind reader! I drafted a comment on exactly those subjects for Anthony Painter’s piece (the one kind of trashing Sunny H’s Find the lost 5M voters). Then I spotted your article & binned my comment ‘cos I wanted to read your article right away.

  • ThePurpleBooker

    Let’s get real about the cuts. The recession will deepen and the deficit will increase, all due to the Coalition’s extreme plans which is why pace and depth is very important not about being nicer. We need to have a programme for deficit reduction by continuing with our Darling Plan of halving the deficit within four years. The Five Point Plan is good for getting growth and I’d urge Balls to look at even more radical banking reforms and business policies to fire up growth as well as re-moralise the markets and rebalancing the economy. However, we need a strong confident deficit reduction plan which we will need to achieve which will involve cuts, like it or not.
     A few examples of what we can do is:
    - £1bn in the Home Office (frontline police services ringfenced)
    - £2bn in the Department for Education (frontline services ringfenced)
    - £3bn in the Department for Health (by reversing the Coalition’s health reforms)
    - £5bn in the Ministry of Defence (without risking our old regiments)
    - £6bn in the Department for Transport
    - £7.7bn in the welfare budget
    - New taxes on pensioner benefits for higher-taxpayers
    - Temporary increase in the top rate of tax from 45p to 50p
    - A mansion tax and a land value tax
    - Further clampdowns on tax avoidance (which is clear and detailed not RESPECT rhetoric).

    • LaurenceB

      You could save £5bn by scrapping the Work Programme (money to the private sector for old rope) and £2.6bn by cancelling the upcoming Universal Credit (a train wreck waiting to happen).

      • ThePurpleBooker

        No because the Universal Credit is a good idea in principle and when we return to government we need to reform its delivery as well as ensure its on time and on budget. We need to use money from the Work Programme to get people into work, I don’t see what scrapping it out of hatred for the Tories will achieve. We need to switch spend to invest in investment allowances for manufacturing or Jobs Gurantee.

        • LaurenceB

          Universal Credit will crash and burn. The RTI (Real Time Information) system at HRMC is already six months behind target and over 100 million over budget: Universal Credit is now at the top of George Osborne’s warning list of government projects that could fail altogether. What will happen, in order to save face, is that some new benefit claimants will be guinea pigged onto the faulty system, in a few areas of the country, over the next few years although ultimately Universal Credit “digital by default” will fail dramatically.

          Your sense of smell will alert you when the sh*t finally hits the fan.

          • ThePurpleBooker

            That does not mean you cancel it. It is a good idea in principle but the Government’s incompetence is ruining its delivery. We must keep it, it’s a good reform.

          • LaurenceB

            The idea of a unified delivery of benefits is a good idea but the Tory idea of a Universal Credit isn’t. For example the Housing Benefit component will be set by local councils not central government which complicates the integration of IT systems across the country hugely. Also Universal Credit is going to have sanctions and conditionality attached to its receipt just like Jobseeker’s Allowance in order to try to make people behave in certain ways, e.g., increase the number of hours they work each week and such like. As is it really is going to be a disaster which would normally please me (to see IDS, Grayling, Freud and the Tories carry the can) but in this case appals me because people are going to end up with no financial support when glitches crash the system and similar. 

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