Cuts: painful, illogical, and unjust

Cuts: painful, illogical, and unjust

Date: 20 October 2010

We sit in anticipation of the full extent of the cuts today. Of course, they’re only the headlines, and one can only guess at how they’ll play out over time. People (on the right) tell us not to worry: they’ll be painful, but necessary.

We’re also told to stop whinging: Look, international development spending is being protected, they say! Aside from the fact that this isn’t really accurate – there’s no new money for climate change for developing countries, for example, and DFID’s budget will be focussed on areas where there is a “security” threat for the UK, meaning its budget will now subsidise cuts in other areas such as defence – it’s the wider trends that leave a very bitter aftertaste.

Globally, we are actually very prosperous – the financial crisis doesn’t really mean that there is less money in the world to spend – it means that we have chosen to prioritise profit for the few over human well-being for the many. Banks are currently preparing £7 billion bonus packages, thirteen times the grants expenditure of Comic Relief, the Disasters Emergency Committee, Oxfam, the British Heart Foundation and MacMillan Cancer Relief put together. Or the total UK aid budget.

The austerity measures being pushed today, and elsewhere in Europe – Ireland, Greece, France – speak to the heart of what the political and corporate elite would have us believe. That is: private good, public bad, everyone for themselves. There’s an old game that used to be taught on management courses – usually called “survival”. Basically, the game taught through role playing that cooperation and helping the weakest always achieved a better outcome for all players than going it alone and worrying about yourself first. I would relish the opportunity to sit around the coalition cabinet table and play this game, as they’ve clearly never had a go before.

Britain grew prosperous through the welfare state – now it’s set to dismantle the principles and the values that made us so. Worse, these austerity prescriptions and an ideological bias in favour of private wealth are being pushed on the developing world too. We’re lectured that this is unaffordable or that we’re spending beyond our means. Unaffordable for who? The City Bankers who might end up with a smaller bonus package?

We know that the developing world has faced forced austerity measures for the past 30 years, and their experience should sound alarm bells for us all. The effects of World Bank and IMF imposed measures were devastating: inequality, poverty and injustice increased as public services and welfare spending were slashed. Recently, such policies have been completely discredited; even the World Bank and IMF held their hands up and said they got it wrong. Those countries, like Malaysia or Vietnam that resisted the austerity measures remained far less vulnerable than those that succumbed to these failed economic prescriptions.

The reality is that these cuts won’t just leave the poor behind – they leave us all behind. In Ireland, for example, we’ve seen a double-dip recession as the cuts went too far, too deep, too fast. Cutting green investment, such as wind power, will mean a greater economic, social and environmental cost to us all over time. The new economics foundation, for example, estimate that a £10 billion investment in onshore wind will result in £19 billion reduction in environmental damage.

Are these cuts painful but necessary? No. They’re painful, illogical, and unjust, and we need to fight for the principle of investing in our futures. In our own fight for global justice, how we look after one another in the UK will undoubtedly be mirrored elsewhere. There is a lot more at stake in today’s announcements than us alone.