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Oct 21

Gideon Throws Us Into the Abyss

Posted on Thursday, October 21, 2010 in ConDemNation, Politics

The responses to Chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) yesterday have been dramatic. From Polly Toynbee:

Newspaper anecdotes of a less favourable kind will show pensioners losing housing benefit evicted from their homes. Sick people queueing for admission on A&E trolleys will suddenly show that NHS ring-fencing was bogus, its inflation needs far higher than the tiny extra it was given. Try closing even one under-used library and hear the local protests, let alone leisure centres, school sports and youth clubs. Sure Start is not saved: without ringfenced funds, it will be left to local councils to wield the axe. Schools will cut teachers and teaching assistants, while a 10,000 cut in police will be blamed for any local crime. The stories of waste and welfare cheats will soon turn to horror tales of cuts. Will the comfortable 70% care then? You bet they will.

The “big society” is now an empty aircraft carrier with no jump-jets. The voluntary sector is in no state to fill the void, with many charities near bankrupt. That £100m “transition” money Osborne gave will not even cover their redundancies and closures: transition to what, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations asks? A third of their funds – £13bn – come from government, mostly from local authorities.

But localism triumphs, the Liberal Democrats boast. That is their proud contribution – devolving the axe to local authorities. Pickles has told councils all targets are gone, freedom is theirs at last! Freedom to take the blame, obliged to cut almost everything not cemented to the floor by law. KPMG said that some councils would go bust. Many companies and charities depending on councils will also collapse. Meanwhile, rejoice, for the bank bonus season is upon us soon.

And this is the bit I don’t remotely understand. How can ‘Gideon’ possibly claim the cuts aren’t ideological when they’ll hit the people who didn’t cause the economic collapse the hardest? Banks are paying outlandish bonuses once again, now in many cases with taxpayers’ money, whilst people in the public sector (or at least those remaining in the public sector after the projected half a million job losses) will have to contribute more to their own pensions, whilst most of them have to survive on a wages freeze. Has there been any mention made by the ConDems about a Robin Hood tax? Hell no. This is an ideological shift – shock doctrine disaster capitalism the likes of which Naomi Klein has repeatedly warned us of. The Tories don’t like the welfare state or the public sector so they’re decimating them both, and it’s certainly not because they have to.

Johann Hari:

My father lost his job at the height of the last Tory recession, and had to leave the country to get another one. I remember how that felt. I remember what that did to my family.

Now it’s going to happen to a million more families and probably more. For the private sector to get all these people into work, as Osborne claims, there would have to be the most rapid business growth in my lifetime. Does anyone think that will happen? Osborne has chosen the weakest people to take the worst cuts. The poorest 16-year-olds were given £30 a week to stay on in education, so they could afford to study – until Osborne’s team dismissed it as a “bribe” and shut it down. The frailest old people depend on council services to wash them and feed them – yet Osborne just slashed their budget by 30 per cent, which service providers say will mean more pensioners being left to die in their own filth. Every family living on benefits is set to lose an average of £1,000 a year – which, as I’ve seen from living in the East End of London, will mean many poor kids across Britain never getting a birthday party, or a trip to the seaside, or a bed of their own, or a winter coat. This isn’t just On Yer Bike, it’s On Yer Own.

There is one stark symbol of how unjust the response to this economic disaster caused by bankers is. They have just paid themselves £7bn in bonuses – much of it our money – to reward themselves for failure. That’s the same sum Osborne took from the benefits of the British poor yesterday, who did nothing to cause this crash. And he has the chutzpah to brag about “fairness.”

I’m not the world’s best economist. But I fail to understand how chucking a minimum half a million people out of work, with the loss of tax revenue resulting from that (as Caroline Lucas mentions below), the redundancy payments and benefits payments arising on top, can possibly make economic sense. The gaps in public sector provision will be picked up by ‘Big Society’ charities? With what money? The private sector? With what incentive? There is no doubt that wasteful practices throughout the public sector need to be tackled, and it was one of the many failures of the New Labour government to have ignored the issue, but decimating it can’t possibly work. Then again it’s not like higher education is going to be growing any time soon, with tuition fees going through the roof and ‘new’ universities going to the wall. Those who can afford to pay through this crisis won’t have a care in the world, but I wonder just how big that catchment is, or what they’ll think when crime starts to rise as the police service is itself decimated by cuts.

I repeat: where’s the talk of a Robin Hood tax?

Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party can have the last word for now: