Austerity in Britain

The Disadvantaged Hit Hardest: Bankers Unscathed

It’s an embarrassing sight—George Osborne, Conservative MP and Treasurer shamelessly congratulating himself for much-delayed, modest, credit-fuelled growth.

Peddling superficially favourable macro-economic indicators may generate cheers and applause on the government benches of the Commons, but the reality is quite different for Britain’s most socially and economically disadvantaged.

Dismantling the welfare state has often been justified on the classical Victorian distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, the modern “shirkers” and the “strivers.” An example of “divide and rule” at its most crude and blatant.

The government advertises raising the personal tax allowance as kindly providing a “tax cut” for Britain’s low-paid “hard workers.” However, tax credit reductions have hit low-income families straight in their pockets.

Much needed state-funded top ups to supplement threadbare wages have been minimized, leaving Britain’s “hard-working” poor stretched to no end in their desperate quest to meet exceptionally high living costs.

Thousands of children have plunged into a life of poverty as a consequence of the government’s cutting of “in-work’” benefits. This has serious implications for their nutritional intake, mental well-being, level of education and chances of social mobility.

These children, supposedly the future of a nation, are the victims of a government which has spectacularly failed to provide financial support for their parents, toiling away in low-paid and often insecure jobs.

A state can be judged on how it looks after its children and also how it treats its disabled.

The story of the latter is one of untold misery. Ruthless slashes to Disability Living Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and housing benefit are driving many of Britain’s disabled towards a life of unbridled despair.

Grossly insensitive fitness-for-work evaluations and the implementation of a “bedroom tax” revealed this government’s utter disdain for those living with disabilities and the families doing their utmost to support them.

It is here that the psychological damage caused by austerity has tragic consequences. Suicides highlight the grim cost of disability cuts in Britain ruled by the logic of austerity.

Nicholas Barker, a former farm labourer in Yorkshire whose left side of the body was paralyzed after a severe brain hemorrhage, took his own life a week after an assessment ruled he did not qualify for certain disability benefits.

Stephanie Bottrill, unable to work due to crippling illness, committed suicide to avoid plummeting into further poverty after being hit by the state with a monthly £80 bill for two spare bedrooms in her council house.

Both severely disabled, both killed by the dehumanizing programme of austerity.

Additionally, austerity has left the country’s mental health care system in tatters. Funding for NHS Health Trusts has been slashed, causing widespread psychological stress, anxiety and trauma.

The dramatic withdrawal of support for those suffering from mental health conditions is a national scandal.

The government pathetically attempts to portray itself as compassionate by ring-fencing overall healthcare spending, but the devastating cuts to the social care budget paint a different picture.

Ever-shrinking social care services have left vulnerable pensioners across the nation on the proverbial scrapheap. Crucial services devoted to feeding, washing and dressing our elderly are at a breaking point, with terribly low-paid and demoralized carers and over-stretched private sector charities left completely exhausted due to social care underfunding.

Commenting on the crisis in social care for the elderly, Caroline Abrahams of Age UK recently said the “state-funded social care system is in calamitous, quite rapid decline.”

Richard Hawkes, chairman of the Care and Support Alliance which represents over 75 British charities, stated that support for the elderly was “grossly under-funded,” adding that “social care is now an election issue and all parties need to commit to serious investment in care.” We can only hope they take note of such grievances and concerns.

At the late Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, the emotional Osborne broke into tears. However, the fiscal strangulation of “Osbornomics” has induced a similar reaction in the caring and compassionate.

At the late Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, the emotional Osborne broke into tears. However, the fiscal strangulation of “Osbornomics” has induced a similar reaction in the caring and compassionate.

Does the upper-class Eton-educated Chancellor of the Exchequer shed a tear for the children suffering from malnutrition due to low-paid parents losing the in-work benefits?

Does he get emotional at the thought of disabled citizens resorting to suicide after their financial support is cut based on a questionable fit-for-work assessment?

Is he concerned about the psychological stress and anxiety the bedroom tax inflicts on the disabled and their loved ones?

Does the good Chancellor get watery-eyed when services dedicated to feeding, washing and dressing our own incapacitated pensioners are under-resourced and under-funded?

Britain, one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, is ravaged by levels of government-led social devastation.

The government seems relaxed about mass-scale corporate tax avoidance, but is more than proactive in forcing the disabled to do work they’re incapable of doing.

Certain politicians are sceptical about the supposedly unethical character of a “mansion tax,” but are more than happy to enforce a bedroom tax on the disadvantaged.

Our political elite is more concerned about our nuclear deterrence system than our mental health care system. Indeed, the priorities of David Cameron’s “aspiration nation”

Rakib Ehsan is studying for a PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. He campaigned on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Party in the most recent election to the European Parliament.

By commenting on this page you agree to the terms of our Comments Policy.