Between April and June, the UK economy reeled from its biggest slump on record, amidst the economic repercussions from Covid-19. Over a decade on from the financial crash of 2008, Britain is now set to enter a second unprecedented recession of a generation.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak and the rest of the government tell us there are difficult times ahead, but no one will be left without hope. However, as a generation living through echoes of promises made and broken a decade ago, we should acknowledge the real threat of another wave of austerity.
After 2008, came one of the most complex governments in history, headed by David Cameron. It was heralded as a government containing some of the brightest new MPs that would go on to deliver life-changing reforms to civil rights and environmental policy but on the other hand, offer communities devastating cuts to benefits and the introduction of the heartless bedroom tax.
A coalition with Nick Clegg in 2010 prevented the party from advancing policies of austerity, but it was still able to keep its record of having the biggest cuts to state spending since World War Two. The coalition only moderated the Conservative Party’s original cuts plan, resulting in the devastation of the social security net and the very institutions that local communities depend on.
These cuts were so drastic that they prompted Professor Philip Alston, a United Nations Special Rapporteur for poverty and human rights, to claim the government was, “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world.” Between 2010-15, the poorest tenth of the population saw a 38% decrease in their next income, whilst the richest tenth lost the least – seeing just a 5% fall.
In 2020 we have the luxury of hindsight in knowing the amount of devastation that austerity gave to some of the most vulnerable communities across the country. We gained little at the expense of balancing the books, and these economic gains do not outweigh the social debts we are still laboured with today.
Furthermore, an unprecedented recession calls for an unprecedented recovery strategy – a return to austerity isn’t the answer.
Placing the burden on the shoulders of the most vulnerable is no fit means for rebuilding our nation. It is no surprise that the groups hit hardest by previous austerity measures are now those who are most hit by the Covid crisis. Having not yet recovered from austerity’s nasty hangover, the same communities face a health crisis resulting in savings scarcity, poorer health outcomes and insecure housing.
We must not let the promises or red, white and blue – or even green – recovery packages blind us to those who paid so dearly for economic recovery before.
It’s time for a grass-roots revolution.
This means rebuilding the country street by street, and sector by sector. We must reverse the creeping relocation of local powers to Whitehall. Recovery for all must include giving powers to Councils and Combined Authorities so they can write specialised recovery plans, instead of plans being made from the London-centric bubble.
For this generation, there are countless debts we must repay as we try to pay off this deficit. Students may have recently been failed by the A-Level algorithm, but we cannot adversely impact their future further.
As the government works to prevent further economic damage, we must also turn our minds to the message of climate strikers. A sustainable recovery cannot be brought by borrowing against the next generation’s chances of fighting against climate change.
Here lies another opportunity for error, as costly as the one made by the architects of austerity. The cost of saving the planet cannot be bought by the individual alone when major corporations are the ones racking up our sky-high debts.
Like austerity, the bill must not be paid by those for whom it is too high a cost. Asking those who rely on plastic straws to be able to drink safety to give them up is unconscionable when the same could be paid many times over by reducing the use of private jets.
As we write the next economic recovery play-book, we must not repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. Hindsight really has to be 20/20.