In 2010 the country was only just beginning to re-emerge from the depths of the 2008 worldwide recession. Largely for this reason, voters decided a change of government was needed. A party with a more responsible economic approach. David Cameron’s Conservative party was this change.
Working in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, policies of austerity were introduced in an attempt to repair the damaged economy. It was decided this was necessary to cut the growing budget deficit and to balance the books.
The government has moved in the right direction to achieve this aim since 2010. The deficit has fallen from £141 billion to £40.7 billion. This is certainly a good step and has been able to be achieved while retaining the UK’s place as the world’s fifth largest economy. On top of this unemployment is at a 40 year low of just 4 per cent.
However not all traditional economic measurements are positive, with average real wages still being lower than they were in 2008 and despite a falling deficit, the national debt has doubled. It is when assessing the impact on people’s lives of austerity policies though, that the true effect becomes clear.
Since 1950 the average increase in the NHS budget each year has been 4 per cent, but since 2010 it has been just 1 per cent a year. When this is coupled with an average inflation rate of 2.87 percent over the same period the issues begin to become clear. Inflation being higher than the growth in the health budget means that the NHS can buy and pay for less than it could before.
This has manifested itself in just 77.1 percent of patients arriving at Accident and Emergency departments being treated within the four-hour target, 95 percent of beds being in use at all times (health experts have said that 85 percent usage is the maximum for safety to be guaranteed) and almost 70,000 operations being cancelled in 2018.
Schools have also seen impactful cuts. A poll of members of the National Education Union found that one in five schools had needed to ask parents for money to help fund the school. Many schools have also had to make cuts to their programmes for supporting children with special educational needs and to extra-curricular activities.
Perhaps one of the most worrying trends has been the rise in the number of people sleeping rough. According to figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, this has increased from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2018, an increase of 269 per cent. In what remains the world’s fifth largest economy, nearly 600 homeless people died on the streets in 2018.
To add to this the use of food banks has enormously increased since 2010. In 2010 there were 41,000 uses of food banks, but by 2017 there were 1.2 million, with no signs of the increase slowing down. Among those using food banks are the nurses trying to help retain the high-class care promised by the NHS, whilst it experiences cuts.
These have been the true effects of austerity politics. The government has been so focused on reducing the deficit that it has sacrificed its world class health care system, overseen a drastic rise in rough sleeping and allowed one in five people living in the UK to be in a state of poverty, including 4.1 million children.
One of the major causes for the Brexit vote in 2016 was seen to be the vast inequality and hopelessness that many people felt. It was this vote that ultimately cost the original enforcers of austerity, David Cameron and George Osborne, their jobs. The Liberal Democrats have almost been wiped out as well.
Austerity has pushed some of the poorest people in our society into deep and damaging poverty. The economy may be experiencing some growth, albeit relatively slow, and the budget may be closer to being balanced, but the brutal effect on society will be felt for decades to come.