THE GATHERING STORM OF AUSTERITY

by Natasha Senior

The People’s Assembly Against Austerity national End Austerity demonstration takes place on Saturday 20th June. Assemble: 12pm, Bank of England (Queen Victoria Street). March to: Parliament Square. 

Like a storm in the sea sending a tidal surge our way, the past 5 years under austerity tell us of looming devastation.  We saw it gather momentum on the horizon, as the waves of cuts started to roll in — pay freezes for the public sector, caps on benefits and cuts to social housing. This left in its wake a falling GDP per capita, a decline in affordable housing, and the rise of food banks. And now that those responsible for this have been re-elected, we are shamelessly informed that the storm is not over, the worst is yet to come and we will not be rescued.

although nearly a century has passed, punishment
still seems to be the sentiment of austerity

The archetypal historical example of austerity is found in the Treaty of Versailles. During the recession after World War I, Germany was forced to bear the brunt sending inflation sky-rocketing. This was a consequence that John Maynard Keynes, one of the greatest economic minds of the 20th century, had warned everyone against.  But the most telling detail in Keynes’ unheeded warning was not rooted in economics but in morality — that it is not ethical to force a country, already defeated and devastated by war, to pay reparations. Indeed, austerity was imposed, not as an economic stimulant, but as a punishment. And although nearly a century has passed, punishment still seems to be the sentiment of austerity — you only need to look at Greece to understand that.

Now even if this measure was not designed to reprimand, if it were the only option available to us (which it is not), why is it being imposed solely on the most vulnerable people in the country? Why aren’t the more fortunate feeling the pinch? And where is the grand deficit-reducing plan behind selling off local authority homes at a discount during a housing crisis, at a cost to the tax payer?

(© arabianbusiness)

Every policy touted by the Conservatives as a cost-saving measure seems to be underscored by an insidious ideology of free unregulated capitalism. This leaves no room for helping to elevate those in a less fortunate position — it instead relies on keeping them there.

if you can’t swim, you will be left to drown

These ideas are championed by demonising the disadvantaged, inflating the scale on which benefit fraud occurs. Sanctions were supposedly put in place to weed out those who are abusing the system, but the only thing that’s come of it is the humiliating and inhumane treatment of those most dependant on it. And people have died, without food in their belly or a penny to their name, whilst Iain Duncan Smith refuses to reveal any information that could provide compensation for those affected. And now, with people barely still afloat after the last wave of austerity, a more devastating one is coming our way as George Osborne irons out the details of slashing £12bn from the welfare budget. A message of cruel indifference reverberates through these measures: if you can’t swim, you will be left to drown.

During a time like this it’s easy to feel an immense sense of futility. Yes, it is unlikely that the government will reverse austerity measures no matter how many people congregate tomorrow (Saturday 20th June) in the People’s Assembly national demonstration.  But Clive Lewis — Labour MP for Norwich South — urged us not to give up when he talked about dealing with austerity at the University of East Anglia last month: “Don’t be passive victims. Crossing a box is only a small part of our democratic right.”

(© Cadi Cliff)

Beneath the brazen chants of activists, placards and uproar,
protest possesses a subtle but significant power

Beneath the brazen chants of activists, placards and uproar, protest possesses a subtle but significant power — a message that we refuse to stand idly by whilst people suffer for crimes they didn’t commit. In the days after, David Cameron might pretend to pay no mind, but as people catch wind of the story, the message will permeate. If we are persistent enough then we can shift the rhetoric of austerity from economic recovery so it once again becomes associated with what it truly is: punishment.

In the hands of greedy bankers sitting at the top of the world, the country hit a recession and the coalition forced the ordinary people to pay the price. And it has been a big price with a rising body count. But now the Conservatives have taken their slim majority, won on only 25% of the population’s vote, as a mandate to unleash austerity unrestrained.

The floods are coming for us, don’t lie back and be submerged. We need to send a message that we are willing to swim against the tide. We will do it because we can. We will do it because we care. We will do it because we won’t let the people of Britain drown without a fight.

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