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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