Socialist Worker

Two years in: the real cost of the cuts

As chancellor George Osborne prepares to wield his axe again with the 2012 budget, Tom Walker counts the real costs of the Tory austerity programme so far

Issue No. 2295

All in it together?

All in it together?


The coalition government will have been in office for 680 days on budget day. An average of 625 public sector jobs have been lost on every one of those days, according to figures from the Unison trade union.

That works out as one job disappearing every two minutes and 18 seconds.

“We have been tough, but we have also been fair,” claimed Tory chancellor George Osborne when he delivered his first budget—an “emergency budget”, as he called it.

In the name of balancing the budget, he has slashed billions from education, health, welfare, council services, and public sector pensions and pay.

But talk of fairness rings hollow from a chancellor who has hiked up VAT—a tax that hits the poorest hardest—at the same time as cutting corporation tax for big businesses.

And the worst is yet to come. The cuts that have hit so far are just a fraction of the onslaught the Tories have planned.

Data gathered by the Royal College of Nursing shows over 56,000 NHS jobs have either gone or been earmarked to go since the government came to power.

Government statistics also show that 71,000 jobs have gone in education this year alone.What has this meant on the ground? Let’s take just one typical day, say Wednesday last week—the day the latest unemployment figures were announced.

Worcestershire council unveiled the latest phase in its plan to cut 490 jobs. It hit the headlines recently after bosses used computer screen wallpaper to tell workers they could be sacked.

Scale

Tory minister Chris Grayling defended 600 planned job losses at Bradford council on the basis of “the scale of the deficit that we face”.

And 150 workers at Calderdale council were told they would be joining the dole queue too.

The Tories have an answer to all this. The private sector will step into the breach to fill the gap that public sector job cuts have left, they say.

Let’s see how that worked out on Wednesday last week. UK Coal revealed that 800 jobs are under threat at Daw Mill, Britain’s largest coal mine. Drugs firm Sanofi announced it is shutting its Newcastle factory, sacking 400.

And Lloyds bank—still partly state-owned thanks to the bailout—cut 400 positions in IT.

No wonder overall unemployment now stands at 2.67 million, while youth unemployment is 1.04 million, or 22.5 percent.

And that’s not the only way young people have been hit hard by the coalition. Youth services have been a favoured target of councils as they implement the cuts. Choose Youth, the union-backed campaign over youth services, says “nearly every project working with 13‑18 year olds is at risk”.

Local Government Association research showed that one in five councils singled out youth services for the biggest budget cuts of all.

Last year a poll by the Unite union showed that 45 councils were making cuts to youth services of between 20 and 30 percent.

And that’s at a time when the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has been scrapped and student tuition fees have been tripled.

The government has tried to claim that this money is just being redistributed to younger children’s services, such as nurseries.

They have boasted of their devotion to children’s centres. This time last year Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said, “I cannot tell you how proud I am that not a single Liberal Democrat-led council is closing a single Sure Start children’s centre.”

But in Lib Dem-run Hull, funding for nurseries was reduced by 56 percent—a £5.5 million cut.

The government confirmed last November that 124 SureStart nurseries have closed since the election.

This is mostly because it removed the “ringfence” around their funding.This allowed councils that are losing a third of their government money over four years to raid the nurseries’ budget.

Nurseries

In Manchester the council tried to close 39 nurseries. It was only forced to back down after a hard-fought local campaign.

Naomi Eisenstadt, the SureStart scheme’s former director, has warned that the Tories could try to close all 3,500 centres in the next few years.

But the Tories’ attacks on the welfare state go all the way “from cradle to grave”. Services for elderly people have also been badly hit.

Spending on care for the elderly—everything from home help to day centres—has been cut by £1.3 billion.

And parliament’s transport committee heard late last year that £300 million of cuts to buses have left thousands of older people stranded, especially those living in rural areas.

The Tories have even slashed pensioners’ winter fuel allowance, leaving them to freeze in unheated homes.

Despite all the talk of “efficiency” and “waste”, every budget cut means job losses, services ruined and destroyed—and more misery for ordinary people.


Working families lose tax credits

The massive cuts to working tax credits are an example of how some of the Tories’ early cuts are starting to hit home.

All the way back in his October 2010 comprehensive spending review, George Osborne announced that couples would have to work 24 hours a week to qualify for the credits, up from 16 hours.

It doesn’t sound like much, does it? And it didn’t get much attention at the time.

But it means that from the start of next month 212,000 low-paid couples on around £18,000 will lose an incredible £3,870 a year—a pay cut of over 20 percent.


Privatised schools and hospitals

Michael Gove intends to force 200 “failing” primary schools to become privately run academies, with a further 500 under threat.

He has already identified 96 primary and 65 secondary schools to transform, many against the wishes of staff and parents.

And the NHS faces £20 billion in cuts, at the same time as a major reorganisation to give more power to private companies.


Disabled people under attack

The government has scrapped incapacity benefit, and made disabled people submit to humiliating tests to determine if they are “fit to work”.

Figures released last Thursday show that over a third of those tested so far have been stripped of their payments in this way—including people who are terminally ill or severely disabled.

But at the same time as taking away disabled people’s payments, the Tories are slashing their jobs.

This month they announced plans to close 36 Remploy factories —meaning job losses for almost 2,000 disabled people.


Stolen wages

The public sector pay freeze means the average public sector worker has seen their pay fall by over 15 percent in real terms over the past three years. They have effectively been robbed of more than £3,300.

Wages for many have fallen to levels last seen in the 1990s. Two years of the freeze were under the Tories and one was under Labour.

And it’s not just in the public sector. A shocking 99 percent of pay deals led to below-inflation wage increases for workers in all sectors last year, according to a TUC report.

Yet directors of the biggest companies have seen their pay rise by 50 percent.


Libraries: 160 closed, 600 more to go

Around 100 libraries have been closed in the last year, according to new campaign alliance Speak Up for Libraries. That is two libraries a week.

That comes on top of 60 closing the year before. Those that remain have fewer staff and books, and have seen their opening hours slashed—a favourite tactic of councils that want to make cuts to libraries without attracting bad publicity.

Librarians’ organisation CILIP says 600 libraries are under threat in total.In England one in five could close. This comes at a time when one child in three does not own a single book.

But minister Ed Vaizey, speaking to a parliamentary committee on library closures last week, said the problem is that “the library issue is stuck in a binary debate about closures… we should be thinking creatively”.

He then went on to talk about an example of such “innovative” thinking—a phone box in the US that local people had put some books in.

Feeling the squeeze

Feeling the squeeze



Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.