As The Sentinel has not yet published online Matthew Wright's Personally Speaking column here is the unedited text below.
Austerity isn't working.
Actually it is. If by austerity you mean the massive transfer of wealth from working class people and government services in to the bank accounts of the super wealthy. While most people across the country have tightened their belts, the billionaires have increased their wealth by an eye watering 500%. since 2004. In fact, Britain has the highest number of billionaires per head of population. This phenomenon isn't restricted to Britain though; Oxfam's latest report on inequality says that by next year, 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.
In economics they talk about the trickle down effect, where the wealth slowly runs down hill. In reality trickle down has meant trickle up - the richest 1% vacuuming up huge amounts of money from the poorest 99%. With a typical worker's income falling by around 9% since 2008.
Since the 2008 economic crisis, austerity has been the prescribed medicine forced upon us. Under the guise of reducing the deficit huge swathes of our public services and welfare state have had the axe taken to them. This is something which unites all mainstream parties, and I include UKIP in this. Labour essentially argue that the Tories are cutting too fast and deep. With the spectre of Ed Milliband as our Prime Minister I'm sure we can all look forward to much gentler cuts. Let me ask you this, when the axe falls on your local library or your community centre does it matter if the executioner has a heavy heart?
So what is the alternative to the avalanche of cuts tumbling down on our communities? During the last election we were told that the government needed to balance the books. The government's budget was compared to a household budget spiralling out of control. We were told that the only way out of this mess was to cut our outgoings (read: jobs and services). The idea of actually increasing our income never entered the equation. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) estimated that there was over £120 billion in uncollected, avoided and evaded tax by big business and the super rich every year, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that if this tax was collected then there wouldn't be a need for any cuts.
Lets look at this and the last governments priorities, since 2005, 34,000 jobs have gone from HMRC and another 10,000 are planned by 2015. So instead of employing more tax inspectors to collect all this tax the government are sacking them, making it easier to evade.
I've worked for the NHS for 7 years or so now, and in that time I've narrowly managed to avoid privatisation on one occasion and redundancy on another. Talk to anyone who works for the NHS and they'll tell you the same things; morale is at rock bottom and resources are stretched to breaking point. As part of their austerity package £20 billion has been cut out of the NHS, how can any organisation take a hit like that and it not affect the service they deliver? This is just the tip of the iceberg, the NHS is dying a death of a thousand cuts, profitable services are put up for tender and snapped up by private health care companies. Locally the whole cancer and end of life care pathways are up for grabs. That means if you're unlucky enough to be diagnosed with cancer and you live in Staffordshire then all your care (diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, you name it) will be delivered by a tax payer funded private company.
This might looks like a bleak picture, and it is, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Greece is a shining example of an alternative model, fed up with years of crushing austerity the Greeks have gotten off their knees and elected Syriza who are standing up to the EU enforced cuts. Now, it might seem like we are a long way off achieving what Greece has done, with home grown anti-austerity parties seemingly too small to make much difference (my own included), but lets not forget that not that long ago Syriza was polling 3-4% in elections. However once an idea becomes the property of the people events can move very fast.
It is very clear that more than ever we are living in an 'us and them' society, the question is who's side are you on?