Austerity’s Logic on Display
A slew of articles and reports have recently shed light on how austerity is impacting people in Britain, with statistics showing the gap between the rich and poor growing significantly. The Tories have tried to cover this up, claiming that the cuts and benefits-shake-ups are only affecting ‘shirkers’, while hard-working ‘strivers’ remain unaffected. They’ve spun the statistics and amped up their rhetoric to present the welfare system as bloated due to the false claims of parasitical scroungers and, according to TUC polls, their efforts are working.
But the real statistics paint a very different picture to what the Tories would have us believe. Over 6.1 million people are in working households which fall below the poverty line. 4.4 million jobs in this country pay less than £7 per hour, while 87% of people on housing benefit have jobs or are part of a working family. Being a striver is hardly an appealing prospect at the moment.
The fact is that wages are so pitifully low for most people that the state has had to subsidise them for years with tax credits and benefits. The situation has become even worse with the onset of the economic crisis, as permanent and skilled jobs are increasingly being replaced by zero-hour contracts, flexible workforces, and low-wage de-skilled positions. Now as the Tories slash the welfare state and benefits system, aiming to increase the profits of their mates in the private sector, working-class people are facing a very real crisis for their income and quality of life.
The human impact has been enormous. Over 300,000 nurses and 150,000 teachers are set to lose hundreds of pounds per year due to the new benefit freezes. The numbers of people using food banks since 2009 has increased fivefold with 130,000 having to rely on donations to be able to feed their families in the past six months alone.
And while working-class people, the unemployed, pensioners, and students have all seen drastic drops in their living conditions, what of the mega-rich 1%? Well, you can breathe easy knowing that the wealth of the billionaires has increased massively. In the past year the richest 100 people in the world have lined their pockets with a further £150 billion. The Sunday Time’s Rich List has shown that the wealthiest in this country are no exceptions to this global great leap forward, increasing their worth by nearly 5% to £414 billion.
Commentators claim that the growth of unemployment and underemployment, coupled with benefits reforms and rises in basic costs of living (housing, electricity, food, etc.), means the return of widespread scarcity in the UK. This is seen as evidence, from an economistic standpoint, that austerity isn’t working. On the contrary, it’s ‘working’ perfectly.
Sure, the deficit hasn’t been reduced, and sure we’re heading into the third dip of a recession (which they won’t call a Depression for fear of – well – depressing us). So accordingly, the Tories are failing to live up to their own rhetoric. But even that doesn’t make austerity a failure. The cuts are part and parcel of the plan to save capitalism, which requires bolstering the strength of the private sector to burst into new areas and make higher profits than before through reducing costs. This is happening just as hoped, and means that for capitalism, austerity is indeed working.
The NHS, education, the courts, the prisons; all are being opened up to the private sector to generate more profit, while lower wages and flexible contracts have brought down the cost of hiring workers. The threat of benefits which can’t cover basic needs, of forced unpaid labour, and of being labelled a ‘shirker’ are all being used to make us desperate to work, even in these worsening conditions.
Though the Tories screech about a ‘culture of worklessness’ where they claim young people just want to sit about playing video games and sleep in till noon, 1 in 10 workers are now desperate for more hours. Meanwhile thousands of recent graduates work for free in the hope that their ‘unpaid internships’ will eventually transform into a real job, or at the very least a decent recommendation on their CV. Tens of thousands of young people have had to work for free through workfare programmes, and yet critics are derided as ‘job snobs’ as though they were objecting to the place of employment rather than the fact that they aren’t being paid. Truly this government has mastered the arts of shifting debates, blaming the victims, and turning around accusations.
This isn’t just an ideological attack by the Tories. We’re facing the chop because capitalism can’t afford us anymore. Profits have to rise again, and to do so there must be a huge destruction of industries and people’s conditions to make way for a new round of expansion. The bosses had gotten by for years paying us intolerable wages, but cheap credit, government support, and low-priced goods, all helped to mask the reality. This is why Labour can’t promise consistently to oppose cuts or to stop them if brought to power. They are an integral part of the current system, and have received a broad consensus from all capitalist parties.
In short, capitalism badly needs cuts. But, since we don’t need capitalism to survive, or even, dare we say, live, it follows that we don’t need cuts and should oppose any claim to their inevitability.