When you hear the word ‘deficit’ the first thing that springs to mind is the so called ‘budget deficit’. So called, because many of us are ‘deficit deniers’. A deficit denier is someone who asserts that the austerity cuts are not the solution. In other words there is a choice involved in relation to how one might deal with the economic crisis.
The budget deficit is really used as propaganda to give the Tories an alibi for what they always want to do. They want to destroy welfare in favour of privatisation, and they do this by undermining and seeking to remove the capacity of working people to organise effectively. Make no mistake, they really do think austerity is necessary, but the attacks are a combination of both structural economic pressures and seizing the opportunity to privatise and roll back the welfare state.
Back in 2010 George Osborne said, “Both those who deny the need to cut the deficit and those who refuse to say how to do it are placing themselves outside of the domestic and international debate.” To understand what Osborne means in reality replace the word ‘deficit’ with ‘welfare state’. Of course the austerity measures only impact ordinary people. The richest 200 people in Britain have a combined wealth of over £318 Billion. Importantly, that is an eight fold increase since 1989. The rich are not only getting richer; they are getting super-richer. But, as the neoliberal might say, maybe these people just work really hard? Well lets just say that it would take 200 people on the wage of an average skilled worker around 63 and a half million years (without spending a penny) to amass such wealth.
To put this figure into perspective, it is billions more than Britain’s deficit when it was at its height in 2009 of just over £156 Billion. Now these 200 individuals combined own around three times the figure of the current deficit. Something is deeply wrong – and Vodafone and the rest of the tax dodgers haven’t even been mentioned yet.
And curiously, the right-wing press will have you believe that it is benefit ‘scroungers’ that cause the rest of society to suffer. A TUC survey carried out in 2012 found that on average people thought that 41% of the entire welfare budget went towards the unemployed. The actual figure? It’s 3%. Additionally, the average figure people put for fraudulently claimed benefits was 27%. The real figure is 0.3%. But don’t let truth and facts get in the way of policy.
Put all of this context with the bedroom tax. According to Tory wisdom the need to cut the deficit is so great and the poorest have been taking too much for too long that this most draconian of policies must be push through and defended. It means that 660,000 houses in the UK, 100,000 of them in Scotland, will lose £14 a week. Those with two ‘extra’ rooms must withstand a 25% cut in housing benefit. The result is evictions, poverty and homelessness. Crisis figures show a 30% increase in homelessness this winter. They say homelessness is to rise dramatically. Chief executive of the national housing federation Leslie Morphy has said: “Our poorest households face a bleak April as they struggle to budget for all these cuts coming at once. People are already cutting back on the essentials of food and heating but there is only so much they can do.’
Queue food banks. In Britain in 2013, thousands of people are struggling to fight hunger. Even basic human rights cannot be afforded under this austerity union. Let the facts speak for themselves. The Trussel Trust figures show in 2011-12 food banks fed 128,687 people nationwide, in 2012-13 they anticipate this number will rise to over 290,000. Just as the rich are getting super rich, the ranks of those who cant afford even to eat are swelling. For Cameron of course, this just proves his ‘big society’ – people helping out the community in ‘economic hard times’.
So Osborne and the Tories are essentially doing the following: he is telling us we have an unmanageable deficit, which he makes working people pay for while the wealth of the rich grows exponentially, and to keep us blind from the ideological and unjust nature of his austerity package, he offers up the real enemy for us to focus on: the benefit scrounger and the ‘skiver’. Now he claims ‘economic recovery’ in a 0.3% growth in GDP. What absolute rot.
This is not just a rotten economic policy, this is also about democracy. The economy and our political institutions are inextricably linked. So here are some simple questions about democracy: when were we consulted about any of this? Where did the Tories get such a mandate? They couldn’t even win a majority government. And who can say with a straight face that those who voted Lib Dem are having their views represented. How dare Osborne come here and preach to us his economic poison? They have zero mandate here. Is it not stomach turning that we, in Scotland, who want nothing to do with the Tories policy, have our own parliament but don’t have the powers necessary to do anything but attempt to shield our population from the millionaires in that cabinet down in Westminster?
Something has got to change – and fast. Voting Yes in the referendum sends a message that we reject Osborne’s toxic formula. I believe that as this argument develops many in the trade union and labour movement will join the call for a Yes vote. That will require patient and long discussion. Class is fundamental in the debate. But to those in the Labour party who say that this independence movement is based on a narrow nationalism, you do your traditional support a disservice, and only highlight your own dislocation from the struggle that is about life and death for a growing number of people. We can stand united against austerity across borders, and start to rebuild an economy based on real jobs and investment in people and our communities. Lets take the argument forward confidently, and let the facts speak for himself. Osborne has failed, we should not let that failure ruin our lives.