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Non-reversible ‘austerity’ – future imperfect

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Here’s a simple question for David Cameron and George Osborne – and IDS, and all the cohorts of Conservatism, UK 2015 style.

When a government uses fiscal measures to balance the books, through tax changes, the measures are adjustable and reversible. They can be modified, ended, tweaked, extended or whatever is needed.

Parkgate, Rotherham, 1974 – walking towards the (coal) gasworks during the Winter of Discontent strikes @ David Kilpatrick

When a government implements cuts to budgets, staffing levels and grades can be controlled along with purchasing contracts, attention to waste, changes in allocations to match changing times (ever worked with a big underused stationery expense budget but an inadequate capital budget for the IT systems which have actually replaced all that stationery?). All these things are reversible. Staffing levels can go up as well as down. Salaries can be frozen for a period, but increased generously when greater prosperity permits.

My question – how do you REVERSE the current implementation of ‘austerity’?


Leicestershire, 2015 © David Kilpatrick

When times are good once again, do you stipulate that instead of paying a bedroom tax, all social housing tenants should be housed with at least one spare room to take account of modern lifestyles and Britain’s terrible record for cramped housing?

Do you send in a team from ATOS to re-assess the terminally ill, disabled, or incapacitated and ensure life support with indemnity from punitive financial action by banks, landlords, government and local authorities, and utility providers? To remove from unsuitable work those forced to undertake it, and remove the detriment to their lives and the lives of their families?

Do you GIVE BACK what you have taken away and RESTORE the welfare cuts, reverse your social policies, and mend the safety net which is supposed to stop those who fall off the tightrope of life from crashing to a hard landing way below?

Vintage black and white print scan 1972 image of old Humber car and trailer outside condemned terrace of houses gypsy encampment at Anston near Sheffield

North Anston, Sheffield, 1972 (condemned, replaced by an industrial estate) @ David Kilpatrick

I don’t think I need speculate about the answers. ‘Austerity’ sounds so much like the period I was born into, just after rationing had ended (though petrol coupons returned for other reasons). That was austerity too – but with a promise in return that once the nation was through its few years of utility furniture and clothing, austerity would be replaced by prosperity. It was succeeded, over the years, by measures such as 25% Purchase Tax, unthinkably high Supertax on income, pre-EU import duties and quotas and measures affecting the whole of society from the top downwards (while enabling the NHS, public utilities and transport, nationalised essential industries and the construction of the modern welfare state). All could be undone, or moderated, to suit conditions and most now have been even though the conditions rarely demanded it.

The answer is that this austerity is not intended as a temporary measure.

Miners Gala

Retired miner, Canklow Meadows Miners’ Gala, 1974 @ David Kilpatrick

It’s planned as a permanent part of our future society regardless of what happens to the economy in five, ten, or twenty years’ time. It has been imposed selectively, making life in Britain worse for those who already found it most difficult. Unlike taxation, the measures now being extended can not be ‘rolled back’ or fine tuned. They are intended to be permanent.

So, it’s not ‘austerity’ then. It is not a period of reduced expenditure intended to rebalance the books. When Cameron talked and talks of so many years of austerity being needed to cut debt and deficit, he has never been talking about a period of austerity. He’s been talking about the time-scale needed to introduce and implement cuts, which will then be permanent. For those involved this austerity is forever austerity, not a few years of corrective action.


Family life with dog, terrace backs in York, 1969 @ David Kilpatrick

Maybe if you’re reading this you will consider your position on ‘austerity’ with more care, for your own future and that of your families and friends. Cameron was and is a PR executive, an expert in the use of language to deceive or persuade. This is not ‘austerity’ as there will no return to normality.

Had the Government taken the route of using higher taxation a very small basic increase and few critical adjustments – all fully reversible or tuneable to suit future conditions – would have seen us through. Instead they promise a five-year tax ceiling and repeated measures to enrich the rich, squeeze the middle and turn ‘honesty poverty’ into despised destitution.

Please hit the social media, whenever you like in future, to quote this article and prove me wrong the very first time you learn that any of the measures of ‘austerity’ have been reversed or removed because the GDP has risen, the deficit is lower and the debt is affordable.

– David Kilpatrick

When you vote, think first

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

A month ago I wrote this: Be An Agent of Change

That was not so long ago despite all the debate since, and I don’t think much has changed, except some feelings have turned out to be well founded. I didn’t anticipate the anti-Scottish stance taken by politicians and the media, or its effect on perfectly normal English voters. Scotland and the Scots have become targets for malice and demonisation, with myths about grabbing English money supported by comments on the rather better use made of that money by Holyrood.

Well, it’s not English money, since Scotland is a net contributor to the UK economy. Scotland without oil would no doubt look far healthier than England without the City but politicians and those in the pockets of power will always be selective with the facts and figures they use to create ‘information’ – and in turn, opinion.

It’s over 25 years since we moved to Scotland and we felt we had journeyed another decade or two back into the past then. Now the voices of England I hear on television street interviews seem to have come from the 19th century, as if the country has turned to look backwards, to before the rise of democratic socially responsible governments, let alone all the progress which has happened during my own sixty-plus years.

I’m worried that if you turn the political clock back this way the next step will be regression in tolerance, freedom, fairness and everyday human values. Would it be better to break up the UK into smaller federated country and regional units – devolved or otherwise – than to break it up by divisions of class, ethnicity, income, health, education, and enfranchisement?


Can the SNP become Labour’s conscience?

The talk on the eve of polling is of a progressive alliance – SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and Greens supporting a Labour government and giving Miliband a backbone rather than just ‘backing’. The alternative to a progressive solution does indeed seem to be a regressive one.

Welfare’s boost to the economy

It’s sad to hear so many people swallow the line that welfare, benefits and services existing for the social good and lifetime security of us all are at the root of excessive borrowing, deficit and debt. In fact, they are at the root of a society functioning at all. Every pound which goes from the Government (the taxpayer, you and me, all of us) to someone who can’t otherwise be housed, keep warm, have enough to eat and stay sane and healthy is not a pound which somehow disappears.

What happens to it? It’s not put into savings – and the only way that money becomes inactive, and ceases to produce further wealth, is when it’s saved today. Banks can barely pay interest, or earn anything from moderate interest, leaving a personal and small business finance sector which depends for much of its viability on charges, fees, commissions, unsecured high interest payday loans, credit card interest and so on. Above that level you’re into the City, tax-free leveraged gambles on the stock market, hedge funds and high frequency computer trading none of which actually does anything except extract money through the cyclical creation of losing and winning positions (the loser is probably you, even if you don’t know it – and the winner is someone you will never know at all).

I’d say that every pound carefully invested, saved, put into a pension pot or kept under the mattress is a pound’s worth of problem for the economy. Cameron and Osborne made no reference to that when changing pension rules to free up some of that frozen cash, but they must have had it in mind.

In contrast, money spent on social housing, welfare, unemployment benefits when needed, child care, education, health, transport, infrastructure, protecting the disabled and looking after the elderly returns immediately to the economy. It pays for the employment of others and for the goods, services and energy needed. Even if it does end up mis-spent on cigarettes or alcohol it’s going right back into the active economy as those industries don’t simply hoover up the money and stick it in a vault. They too employ people. Even gambling keeps the cash recycling, however much you dislike it.

To keep an economy thriving, people must spend money. Not just the middle classes or the top toffs either, as they are more likely to spend on luxuries and imported goods. Money must be spent on essentials and everyday life, including the maintenance of social environments whether city suburb or village. That’s where the continued ‘austerity’ really falls down – it reduces too many people to a state of economic hibernation.

I’d argue that working folk I have seen on TV saying things do seem better now, the economy is turning round, austerity is working (and so on) show signs of habituation to changing conditions. It’s now been so long since they really were well off that they see their reduced circumstances as normal. I have seen this happen in business myself and understand the process; gradually, you accept less, and expect less. It’s even easier in daily life.  You work longer hours, you change your shopping habits, you stop doing as many things for fun, cut down, simplify and keep going. Some call this process ‘sleepwalking’ into a different situation and it’s not a bad description (also applied to the erosion of civil liberties and the acceptance of corporate impositions on civic society).

End austerity and restart the circulation from the heart

So, I reckon Nicola Sturgeon and the progressive minor parties – slightly to the left of centre, and not in any way extreme – have it right when they call for an end to austerity and especially an end to the purposeful impoverishment of sections of society which need financial support. It’s support to survive, not support to enjoy some ‘benefit’ others don’t, and pretty much every pound which goes to this support returns immediately to society in general and it is spent – it pays bills, it pays councils, it pays shops, it pays carers, it pays nurses, it pays teachers.

And guess what happens to those pounds? Yes – they in turn pay their bills, buy their services, their goods, employ their staff. And it keeps on. The truth is that ‘trickle down’ has never worked but fuelling a domestic economy from the bottom up does work. As for higher taxes on extreme wealth or income, both now causes of problems and not signs of a healthy economy, they can in theory return money to active circulation which would otherwise disappear from the UK or be locked up for a lifetime.

Ending austerity and increasing public spending, perverse though it may seem, could restore the UK to economic and social health and make us a happier and more secure nation.

Scotland in general, and the SNP as the current chosen representation for many thinking Scots, grasps this idea rather well. I just hope that that greed, envy and malice don’t prevent England from working with Scotland (and Wales, and Ireland) towards the betterment of all people of the UK and downfall of the present shiny, happy Westminster kleptoplutocracy.

– David Kilpatrick