Austerity should not be an excuse for authority service failings

I have recently been accompanying Sheffield families to events that have had, as a core focus, the issue and impact of ‘austerity’.

Wednesday, 26th June 2019, 11:50 am
Updated Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 5:50 pm
circa 1980: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speaks at a political conference during the early 1980s in London, England. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Their concerns and interests, and ours, have been around rising inequalities and the ever-increasing adverse impact – past, present and continuing – that austerity is having upon families, in the UK, including in our city.

We listened to Government figures asserting that since 2010, they have done all in their power to provide substantial fiscal stimulus to dampen the recession because they said, recession and bank bailouts raised levels of public debt, credit booms and bust, which lead, they said to public debt crises, and that past Labour governments were responsible for this. Regardless of what event we attended arguments for the causation of austerity have been to the fore, with different sides generally falling in four camps.

Firstly, are those who blame the liberalisation of finance under Margaret Thatcher for the crisis that paralysed the banking system and led to the deepest UK recession of the post-war era.

Another group we heard from, of late from in the right of politics, argue the cause of the financial crisis, did indeed have its roots in the 1980s, but that this was not due to deregulation but rather to private regulation being replaced by less effective statutory regulation under Thatcher. The third camp blame the Tony Blair/ Gordon Brown Governments for failings to effectively regulate the banking industry also, saying that UK banks collapsed largely due to overseas assets they had on their books and that regulation should have been used to stop them buying those assets, or forced them to substantially reduced their leverage. This argument evades, families noted, concerted focus on domestic debt.

The fourth camp argued that if austerity in the UK is anyone’s legacy, it is that of George Osborne as it was he, and he alone, they said, who chose to cut spending in the middle of a recession, something no Chancellor has done since Keynes wrote the General Theory in 1936. Under this latter argument the premise is that austerity wasn’t inevitable after the financial crisis. It was he and his colleagues’ fault, they said, because they chose to shrink the state, because Labour hadn’t but that underlying this was the real reason, namely comprising of him and his party looking for ways to reduce public spending and on seeing a rising deficit as a way of bringing this to fruition in their policy in 2008 it allowed George Osborne and his colleagues to implement austerity through a form of ‘deficit deceit’ by using the supposed need to reduce the deficit to cut spending, as means of shrinking the state.

It was important for Sheffield families, who are struggling every day under austerity and with seeing ever increasing barriers being put up against their attaining much needed access for them and their children to even basic entitlements and services, to hear these arguments from the different sides, all explaining to them the causation of austerity and why they are suffering and struggling still.

Sheffield families listened and collectively deliberated upon what they heard and came to consider from this, along with their own experiences, that austerity was not and is not inevitable and that recessions are deeper and more prolonged if they are accompanied by a financial crisis, and that they are deeper and longer still if that financial crisis is preceded by a credit boom, while the path of recovery is worse still, when a credit-fuelled crisis coincides with elevated public debt levels and public and other sector service cuts being implemented under guise of needing to cut back, the state, including the culling of vital public services from public authorities.

Running in tandem with this, families have experienced that some local public authorities have also used Government austerity to hide behind bringing to fruition their own plans to cull provision and local jobs, under the guise of austerity rationalisation. Austerity has at times been used, they note, as a means of preserving resources and as an excuse for cultures of suppressing families’ entitlements and for covering for breaches of due process.

Some go so far as to say that staff behaving out of order towards families and advocates are doing so due to the pressure of austerity upon them as teams and as public sector workers. Families remain firm in their belief that austerity should not be used as an excuse for service failings and nor should it ever have been a means of central Government reducing the state by stealth.