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fortune

What a world we are living in!

You know that I keep Fridays for personal stuff.

Like food.

Like the life we’ve been living.

Like the problems we’ve been grappling with and the hacks we’ve been working out.

Today, I decided to write about something I consider very personal but it is not only about my life. It is about the lives we live as society and the legacy we wish to leave to our children.

If you share the neo-liberal belief that ‘all that is the market’ is good (it is the markets that neo-liberals create incidentally) and that all is up (or down) to the individual, you better stop reading.

Because today I’m writing to vent my frustration with the onslaught on the welfare state in the UK. For the benefit of my readers in the US, in the UK this is not only and simply about state ‘handouts’ to people who can’t or won’t work. The welfare state is about:

  • Supporting people while out of work (income) and assisting them to find employment.
  • Making sure that fewer children grow up in crippling poverty.
  • Offering a helping hand to people who are ill and unable to work.
  • Topping up the income of people who work and still can’t earn enough to cover the basics in life.
  • Access to free health care for all.
  • Access to decent quality education for all.

Can you find a fault with providing any of these?

I can’t either!

Yet during the last couple of decades there has been a massive and systematic attack on the welfare state in the UK. I won’t even try to assign blame to a particular government and a particular party. I believe the culprit is the ideology of neo-liberalism and all that comes with that.

Markets know best? So, let’s privatise everything and increase the discipline and control in domains that clearly cannot be left to the market (like higher education).

The destiny of individuals is in their own hands? So, let’s demolish the social infrastructure and conditions that support these individuals to blossom.

And since ‘private is good’ and ‘public is evil incarnate’ let’s play a game called ‘withdrawal of the state’ which actually gives us the opportunity to sell off valuable assets to our wealthy buddies at a discount price.

First was Mrs. Thatcher; then came Tony Blair. He was followed by David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg. Since 1979 when Mrs. Thatcher won her first term as Prime Minister, we’ve had only two Prime Ministers who were not rabidly neo-liberal – John Major and Gordon Brown; both were seen to be failures.

I’m not going to trace the onslaught on the welfare state very far back. But I’ll have to mention the developments since 2010 when this madness of austerity started in earnest.

In his June 2010 budget, George Osborne (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) announced further £32bn reduction in government spending. One third of that – approximately £11bn – was to come from the welfare budget. The macho budgets continued and the cuts bit bad. This changed the situation of the poorest people in UK from desperate to really hopeless.

In the UK, the use of food bank has risen dramatically in the last decade or so. According to the Trussell Trust – the largest charity stocking and running food banks in the UK – only last year three day emergency food supply had to be given to over a million people (which is close to 20% increase on the previous year). For goodness sake; we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and it is the 21st century, not the 19th. Some Tory politicians had the gall to comment that people use food bank not because they need to but because who won’t go for free food.

As if this isn’t demeaning enough, the present government had to add insult to injury and introduce the bedroom tax. And you know what we here, at The Money Principle, think about this one.

We should also mention the Health and Social Care Bill which was reputedly the biggest shake up of the National Health Service (NHS) since its inception in 1945. There are some interesting point in the Bill (now Act) concerning terminal illness. Let’s just say that a group of younger people on Facebook thought that it is a joke; it isn’t – in Britain today we have to plan very carefully our terminal illness (and its outcome). Failing to die within twelve months can have dire consequences for you and your family.

Now we are expecting the latest changes to working tax credits (read ‘cuts of working tax credits’) to come into force. This cuts will affect low paid workers and some estimate that the low paid workers in the UK (and their families) will be approximately £1,350 worse off in 2016 when this takes effect.

Well, this is only £112 per month, you may think.

  • But you see, when you work the hours and you don’t even make minimum wage this is a fortune.
  • When your income is so low that you have to choose between eating and heating, this is a fortune.
  • When you have to choose between feeding your children and eating yourself, this is a fortune.

This is four, five weeks of food for a family on a really tight budget.

So, yes, Mr. Osborne! For many families in the UK (over 800,000 of them) £100 is not small change that is not enough for a good night out. It is not a bit more than what you had to burn in the face of a homeless person to get in one of your Oxford University clubs for toffs.

For close to a million families in the UK, £112 per month is a fortune.

But, of course, you cannot retract from your pointless austerity. And somehow, in this times defined by greed, politicians talking about lowering inequality, eliminating poverty, fairness and dignity is out of fashion.

What I mind most, however, is the human cost we are paying as a society to indulge the delusions of austerity.

A case study on the true costs of austerity and inequality in the UK carried out by Oxfam estimated that:

“Over the decade to 2020, an additional 800,000 children are expected to be living in poverty almost one in four British children. Over the same period, an extra 1.5 million working age adults are expected to fall into poverty, bringing the total to 17.5 per cent of this group.”

This is huge!

And I worry. I worry about the policies of austerity eroding the economic and social foundation of the UK. I worry about increasing inequality and the social and economic problems that come with it.

Most of all I worry about the legacy we’d leave our children.

So instead of falling for the nasty propaganda around migration and migrants it may be better to put a bit more of our energy into making sure that we’d leave behind a society we can be proud of; a society in which we’d like our children to raise their own families.

Okay, rant over, I can take a breath now.

Speak soon.