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The impact of austerity - guest blog from Radhia Tarafder

18.08.16

Radhia Tarafder, from Hampshire Independent Equality Forum, discusses the impact that public sector spending cuts have had on those with protected characteristics and those already disadvantaged.

See below for presentations from our the Austerity Conference, held on 5 October, that looked at some of the key issues raised by Radhia in her blog. (scroll to ‘Helpful Resources’ box at end of page)

Hampshire Independent Equality Forum, Hampshire User Led Organisation Network and Hampshire Equality Group have been discussing what impact the austerity package of public spending cuts have had among those with protected characteristics and those already disadvantaged. We want to hear about how you as a group or as an individual have been affected and what (if any) solutions you have.

The 2010 Coalition Government, led by David Cameron, responded to the lingering financial crisis with a number of austerity focused measures. To this end the Chancellor, George Osborne, made a clear public commitment to eliminate the annual budget deficit over the life of that parliament. He sought to do this through a combination of increasing taxes and reducing public spending. Public support for the austerity policies was secured by repeating the message that there was no other option to tackle the funding deficit and ‘we are all in it together’. Over the 2010 to 2015 parliament, the chancellor failed to eliminate the deficit. Public spending was cut heavily but taxes have not been significantly raised. In fact between 2010 and 2015, 90% of the reduction in the budget deficit came from public spending cuts and only 10% from increased taxation. Almost inevitably the public spending cuts have significantly impacted on poorer groups in society, for these tend to be the groups that most use public services.

We have seen a rise in the use of food banks which activists and researchers have linked to the budget cuts and sanctions against benefit claimants. The austerity programme has also faced opposition for the under-occupancy penalty (bedroom tax) reducing the amount of housing benefit available for those living in a house with a bedroom not deemed necessary according to the Government.

Tax and spending policies are said to benefit men more than women and therefore cutbacks have been seen by some as a feminist issue. In an article published online in Issue 49 of Soundings Journal, the particular gendered impact of the austerity programme is explored and “how the government’s cutbacks in social provision are privatising work that is crucial to the sustenance of life”. Indeed the impact on low-income households, of which women predominate, is great. (A Fair Deal for Women).

In June this year, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) published a report reviewing the austerity measures. The Committee was:

“…seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, ,social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.”

Drawing on evidence from Just Fair, who campaign for justice and fairness through human rights, the report considers a number of factors in its decision, including increased reliance on food banks, unemployment rates, the housing crisis, mental health care, and discrimination against migrants. The committee reminds the government of their obligations and calls upon them to make changes.

Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform, a member of the Just Fair Consortium said: "The past six years of austerity have seen the UK Government intentionally diminish the rights of its own citizens. The Centre for Welfare Reform welcomes the news that the United Nations has strongly criticised the UK Government for these policies – policies that have harmed immigrants, asylum seekers, disabled people and those living in poverty. There is no good reason for these ongoing attacks; instead it seems likely that these groups have been targeted simply because they are convenient scapegoats for problems they did not cause.

“The UK Government’s policy has been shameful, and so is the ongoing failure of most of the media to attend to the impact of Austerity. So, we are all the more grateful to Just Fair for co-ordinating the efforts of civil society organisations like ourselves, and for helping to draw attention to these injustices.

But what now in this uncertain post-Brexit Britain? In a blog for Disability Now, John Evans, one of the founders of the UK independent living movement, said the day of the referendum would “go down as the blackest day in the modern history for disabled people in the UK and for our human rights”. He said he was “dismayed, horrified and heartbroken about the consequences facing us and it is hard knowing which way to turn”.

Miro Griffiths a former project officer for the European Network on Independent Living and now a lecturer, researcher and teacher, said the vote meant that the connection between disabled people in the UK, their European supporters, policies “that reflect the aspirations of the independent living movement”, and “decision makers that would collaborate with us” had been “severely damaged – possibly beyond repair”.

He said: “Disabled people in the UK will become further marginalised as the state begins to dismantle social justice frameworks and destroy the support systems that – currently – do not meet the needs of those who require them.

“The most startling factor to consider is that the majority of those who voted unwittingly accepted this.” (Disability News Service)

And in The Guardian, Marianna Mazzucato believes austerity is the cause of our economic woes. It’s nothing to do with the EU. She says “The visceral nature of the referendum campaign showed just how many voters felt the effects of an economic system that doesn’t work for them. But if the leave campaigners were right about how many felt about life and work in Britain today, they were wrong about the causes, and wrong about the solutions. Blaming the EU was a category error. In truth, the blame lies closer to home.

“Austerity – which has affected the living standards of many working people – was not imposed by the EU, but was a choice by the current government. When public finances are tight, the economic contribution made by migrants ought to be welcomed. But the climate of cuts allowed migrants to be blamed and Britain’s contribution to the EU – at £8bn, just 1.2% of public expenditure (Institute for Fiscal Studies) and outweighed by our economic gains from membership – to take on disproportionate significance.”

As you can see the debate is strong, as are feelings.

Radhia Tarafder,
Hampshire Independent Equality Forum