The pre-Brexit era seems like a lifetime ago, yet the impacts of the austerity measures the coalition of the Tory/Lib Dem 2010-2015 government put in place are only now starting to truly bite. Yet, despite this, no one seems to be paying the blindest bit of notice or seem to be joining the dots of how screwed the public sector is starting to look, how unhappy people are, how many people are being affected or how big the hole in the fabric of British society has become.
The Titanic may have been a difficult ship to steer quickly, but an economy takes even longer to change course. Positive or negative funding and policy decisions all too often come home to roost years, if not decades, after the actual decision was made and the government of the day has left office and penned their memoires.
Take the decisions made by the two biggest personalities in British politics since the end of WWII. Thatcher’s economic policies still frame decisions being made today about UKPlc. The Big Bang she agreed to 30 years ago has meant that the entire British economy is now so heavily reliant on banking and making money out of money that all other industries and regions outside London have to take a backseat. Meanwhile Blair’s decision back Bush and take Britain into Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 has led to the creation of Islamic State, the mass immigration of refugees and economic migrants to Europe fuelling far right outfits, the destruction of Syria, Brexit, the anarchy in Libya and the emboldening of terrorist outfits spanning Turkey to Nigeria, Egypt to Pakistan.
Yet, since the June Brexit referendum we have all but forgotten what Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Osbourne and Alexander sowed for the public sector of the UK. Before that fateful day, we talked about nothing else in political and media worlds but it is now, more than ever, that those decisions by that government will start to see really have an impact.
Cuts take time to be felt. There is always a bit of fat to trim but as time goes on that fat diminishes and one has to start cutting into the tendons, the bone and then the organs. That is what is where Britain is now.
To see this, one needs to look across the entire breadth and depth of policy making and not just at one department. Then, it also helps to look at how people feel. Here are just a few recent stats that have popped out one by one without anyone seeming to realise they are all part of the same austerity impact.
- Due to overcrowded, poor conditions and low staff numbers, the worst prison riot since 1990 has just happened.
- Only one in 13 ambulance trusts are reaching the most serious emergencies within target times.
- The government has failed to train enough teachers for four years in a row leading to people with no better qualification than an A-level teaching in secondary schools.
- A record 117,000 children will be classed as homeless this Christmas.
- The police are so stretched they have taken more than six weeks to quiz the first footballer to make allegations of historic sexual abuse.
- Bed blocking – where old people cannot leave hospital because there is no care package for them when they go home – is at the highest level since 2000 when the NHS cuts from the previous Conservative government were still taking time to be reversed.
- Following 17% real terms cuts, fire brigade arrival times to 999 calls have dropped across most of the country.
- Due to scaling back on RAF aircraft, Britain will now have Donald Trump’s fighter jets on her aircraft carriers rather than UK ones.
- For the first time since records began, this year the English recycling rate dropped.
- Since 2011, more than 340 libraries have closed and 25% of professional library staff sacked.
- There has been an increase in suicides of almost 15% since austerity measures started.
- Prescriptions for anti-depressants are at an all time high.
- Between 700,000 and a million people have lost their job in the public sector since 2010.
- Many key NHS targets on stuff from cancer treatment to A&E patients being seen in four hours are routinely being missed.
This is just a sample. The list goes on and on. From health to education to crime, defence to transport to the criminal justice system, the cuts which started to be made by the coalition government are coming home to roost. Disparity of wealth is getting larger, wages have stagnated, key public services which millions rely on each day are struggling and, as a consequence, people are less happy than ever before.
Probably the saddest bit is that the people who caused this decimation of the public sector will see little in the way of blame. Osbourne is now a backbencher, Cameron and Alexander no longer in politics and Clegg is being reborn as some sort of sage.
Instead it will be those in power now. I am no fan of Philip Hammond or the May government, but to their tiny credit they have at least slowed the pace of the savage cuts that have affected the poorest people and the poorest areas of the UK. Yet they will be the ones who will have fingers pointed at them even though they had little to do with the financial decisions concocted by the Notting Hill set, the Treasury and the top Lib Dems.
Austerity is now old hat, old news and forgotten under the weight of Brexit stories. But for the next five to ten years the impact of the decisions made by that coalition government will be far more impactful on the lives of us than any EU exit stuff. Whilst many in newspapers and politics will look to blame everything from NHS to education crises on Brexitland, spare a little ol’ thought for good ol’ austerity and just how much our blue and yellow combined chums really buggered Britain up in the long term.