On Saturday October 18, 2014, after I took part in “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” a march and rally in London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress), I posted a photo set on Flickr, and an accompanying article. I have now posted a second set of photos, and, to accompany that set, this article follows up on some of the themes of the march and rally, which, I was glad to note, was attended by around 90,000 people.
The event was called by the TUC to highlight the growing inequality in the UK, and to call for an increase in pay for those who are not in the top 10% of earners, who, it was recently revealed, now control 54.1% of the country’s wealth.
In the Observer on Sunday, Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang addressed some of the issues addressed by the TUC event — and, more generally, by those of us who are dismayed by the failure of the Labour Party to challenge the myths peddled by the Tories and their Lib Dem facilitators regarding the need for savage austerity programmes, which, it seems, will be as endless as the “war on terror.”
Chang begins his article, “Why did Britain’s political class buy into the Tories’ economic fairytale?” by pointing out that a large proportion of the British voting public has bought into the Tories’ narrative about the economy — that only an ongoing programme of savage cuts has put the economy on the road to recovery after the previous Labour government’s irresponsibility. As a recent IBM poll showed, people “trust the Conservatives more than Labour by a big margin when it comes to economic management,” as Chang put it — and the situation has become so ridiculous that the Labour Party “has come to subscribe to this narrative and tried to match, if not outdo, the Conservatives in pledging continued austerity.”
And yet, the root of the problem is, of course, not the need for cuts in government spending, but the repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis, brought about not by welfare claimants and immigrants, as the current narrative insists, but by criminally irresponsible investment banks, aided, it should be noted, by politicians (of all the major parties), who had been doing all they could to deregulate financial dealings since the 1980s.
As Chang points out in his article, the Labour Party has lost control of the narrative, even though all of Britain’s financial woes can be traced not to their spending policies, but to the recession that followed the 2008 crash. As he explains:
First, the recession reduced government revenue by the equivalent of 2.4% of GDP — from 42.1% to 39.7% — between 2008 and 2009-10. Second, it raised social spending (social benefit plus health spending). Economic downturn automatically increases spending on many social benefits, such as unemployment benefit and income support, but it also increases spending on things like disability benefit and healthcare, as increased unemployment and poverty lead to more physical and mental health problems. In 2009-10, at the height of the recession, UK public social spending rose by the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP compared with its 2008 level (from 21.8% to 24%).
When you add together the recession-triggered fall in tax revenue and rise in social spending, they amount to 5.6% of GDP – almost the same as the rise in the deficit between 2008 and 2009-10 (5.7% of GDP). Even though some of the rise in social spending was due to factors other than the recession, such as an ageing population, it would be safe to say that much of the rise in deficit can be explained by the recession itself, rather than Labour’s economic mismanagement.
Chang proceeds to explain that the Tories — and their supporters — would counter this by claiming “we had to control the deficit because we can’t live beyond our means and accumulate debt.” However, he describes this as “a pre-modern, quasi-religious view of debt,” adding:
Whether debt is a bad thing or not depends on what the money is used for. After all, the coalition has made students run up huge debts for their university education on the grounds that their heightened earning power will make them better off even after they pay back their loans.
The same reasoning should be applied to government debt. For example, when private sector demand collapses, as in the 2008 crisis, the government “living beyond its means” in the short run may actually reduce public debt faster in the long run, by speeding up economic recovery and thereby more quickly raising tax revenues and lowering social spending. If the increased government debt is accounted for by spending on projects that raise productivity — infrastructure, R&D, training and early learning programmes for disadvantaged children — the reduction in public debt in the long run will be even larger.
Chang then addresses the Tories’ next retort — that the current, much-trumpeted recovery “is the best proof that the government’s economic strategy has worked.” But as he asks, “has the UK economy really fully recovered? We keep hearing that national income is higher than at the pre-crisis peak of the first quarter of 2008. However, in the meantime the population has grown by 3.5 million (from 60.5 million to 64 million), and in per capita terms UK income is still 3.4% less than it was six years ago. And this is even before we talk about the highly uneven nature of the recovery, in which real wages have fallen by 10% while people at the top have increased their shares of wealth.”
Even the argument that we are enjoying a “jobs-rich” recovery, creating 1.8m positions between 2011 and 2014, is punctured. As Chang notes, “The trouble is that, apart from the fact that the current unemployment rate of 6% is nothing to be proud of, many of the newly created jobs are of very poor quality.” He adds, “The ranks of workers in ‘time-related underemployment’, doing fewer hours than they wish due to a lack of availability of work — have swollen dramatically. Between 1999 and 2006, only about 1.9% of workers were in such a position; by 2012-13 the figure was 8%.”
He also highlights an increase in self-employment, “whose historical norm (1984-2007) was 12.6%,” but which “now stands at an unprecedented 15%,” and as he explains, “With no evidence of a sudden burst of entrepreneurial energy among Britons, we may conclude that many are in self-employment out of necessity or even desperation.”
Totting up all these figures, Chang concludes that, “in between the additional people in underemployment (6.1% of employment) and the precarious newly self-employed (2.4%), 8.5% of British people in work (or 2.6 million people) are in jobs that do not fully utilise their abilities — call that semi-unemployment, if you will.”
As he also explains, the success of the Tories’ narrative has allowed the coalition government to pursue what he describes accurately as “a destructive and unfair economic strategy, which has generated only a bogus recovery largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and finance, with stagnant productivity, falling wages, millions of people in precarious jobs, and savage welfare cuts.”
We are, he notes, “in desperate need of a counter narrative that shifts the terms of debate” — one in which the government budget “should be understood not just in terms of bookkeeping but also of demand management, national cohesion and productivity growth,” and in which jobs and wages “should not be seen simply as a matter of people being ‘worth’ (or not) what they get, but of better utilising human potential and of providing decent and dignified livelihoods.”
However, that counter narrative is, sadly, one that is not readily apparent in the mainstream — and without it, as Chang notes, Britain can only continue on a path of “stagnation, financial instability and social conflict.” If the Labour Party refuses to wake up, we will need to pursue new approaches — via the Green Party, for example, or through organisations like UK Uncut and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which have articulated coherent narratives that also puncture the Tory-led coalition government’s lies.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Saturday October 18, 2014, I was one of around 90,000 people who took part in “Britain Needs A Pay Rise,” a march and rally in London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress) to highlight the growing inequality in the UK, and to call for an increase in pay for those who are not in the top 10% of earners, who, it was recently revealed, now control 54.1% of the country’s wealth. The London march began on Victoria Embankment and proceeded to Hyde Park, where there was a rally. Other protests took place in Glasgow and Belfast.
I was pleased that 90,000 people turned up, from all over the country, and there was a great atmosphere on the march, which was reassuring, as it is often easy to be despondent, so successful are the efforts by the Tories and the right-wing media to discredit unions and the solidarity of the people. I had many pleasant exchanges with people from Yorkshire, Lancashire and across London, and I hope another event takes place in spring, before the general election.
As I explained in an article before the protest, I was “extremely glad to see the TUC putting together a major protest, as it is exactly two years since the last major TUC-organised protest, ‘A Future That Works’ (see here and here for my photo sets on Flickr) Prior to that, there was the ‘March for the Alternative’ in March 2011,” which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, I’ll be joining — hopefully — tens of thousands of people (at least) for “Britain Needs a Payrise,” a march and rally in central London organised by the TUC (Trades Union Congress). Campaigners are meeting on the Embankment at 11am and marching through the West End to Hyde Park, where there will be a rally (see the route map here). The Facebook page is here, where you can join the event, and you can also pledge your support on the website. There is also a Twitter page here.
As the TUC states, in its message about the protest, “Join us for a march and rally in London on 18 October 2014, to help call for an economic recovery that works for all Britons, not just those right at the top.”
On Friday, there was some rare good news regarding the British government’s assault on the unemployed, as a Private Member’s Bill aimed at mitigating the worst effects of the hated “bedroom tax” passed a crucial vote in the House of Commons.
Ever since the wretched Tory-led coalition government seized power in May 2010, the very foundations of the modern British state have been under attack. The brain-dead grandchildren of Margaret Thatcher, the modern-day Tories — and their Lib Dem facilitators — have launched a comprehensive assault on the welfare state, under the guise of an artificial “age of austerity,” lying and playing on people’s least savoury instincts to paint the unemployed as shirkers and scroungers, despite the fact that there is only one job available for every five unemployed people, and also to portray the disabled as being fit for work, when that is not the case, as well as imposing caps on and cuts to benefits, driving people out of their homes.
This shameful sleight of hand, which has failed to deliver any savings, also ignores how much of the benefits bill goes not to the unemployed but to the working poor, and, most disgracefully, how by far the biggest part of the welfare bill is for pensions – an area that governments, and particularly Tories, don’t want to touch, as old people vote, in significant numbers, and everyone in politics seems happy that the general movement of money is from the young to the old. Read the rest of this entry »
Some people think that protest is futile, but in Lewisham, in south east London, we know that’s not true. In 2012 and 2013, a grass-roots people’s movement in Lewisham defeated plans by the government — and senior officials in the NHS — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts accumulated by a neighbouring NHS trust. If the plans had gone ahead, the 270,000 people of Lewisham would have had no A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department, and would have had to join 500,000 other people, from two other boroughs, served by one A&E many miles away on a remote heath in Woolwich. In addition, all frontline acute services would have been cut at Lewisham, and, as a result, 90 percent of the Lewisham’s mothers would not have been able to give birth in their home borough.
Although we won a significant victory in Lewisham, the zeal of the government — and of senior NHS managers — for increased privatisation, and for cuts that can only damage the provision of services to those in need continues, and, as with so many facets of the opportunistic “age of austerity” declared by the Tory-led coalition government, mass opposition is in short supply. What we need, at the very least, is regular opportunities to show the government, the banks and the corporations that we are implacably opposed to their corruption and cruelty, and yet we have had only two major protests in the last four years — one in March 2011 (the TUC-led “March for the Alternative“), and another (“A Future That Works“) in October 2012.
In January last year, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign got 25,000 people out on the streets of Lewisham, providing hope and encouragement to campaigners across the country, and on Saturday, thousands of NHS supporters gathered in Red Lion Square in Holborn and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally that was a culmination of a three-week, 300-mile march by around 30 mums (the “Darlo Mums”) and others from Darlington, who recreated the 1936 Jarrow March, as the People’s March for the NHS. Read the rest of this entry »
On August 16, a group of mums in Darlington, in County Durham, set out on a march to the Houses of Parliament, ending this Saturday, September 6, “to build support for the NHS and to join up with amazing NHS campaigners across the country,” as they note on their website.
Their march, the People’s March for the NHS, was inspired by the Jarrow March in 1936, when, in the Depression, 200 people marched from Jarrow, 30 miles north of Darlington, to London to demand action from the government.
The campaign to save the NHS from the lying, Tory-led coalition government, whose leader, David Cameron, promised before the 2010 election that there would be no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, is one that I have been involved in since 2011, when the privatising Health and Social Care Bill was first unveiled. I fought against the passage of the bill in the early months of 2012, and in October 2012 joined the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, which, over the following year, secured unprecedented grass-roots support (see here and here) against government and NHS management plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust. That campaign was ultimately successful, but privatisation continues to invade the NHS, as intended by the government, numerous hospitals face uncertain futures, and further legislation — like the hospital closure clause (Clause 119) of the 2013 Care Bill — have had to be resisted (again, with success). Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT March 9: Here’s a short video about the “hospital closure clause” the government cynically inserted into the Care Bill to enable solvent successful hospitals near to hospitals in financial trouble to be closed or downgraded without proper consultation. MPs will be voting on Tuesday (March 11), so please act now. Sign and share the petition here if you haven’t already (it has nearly 180,000 signatures). Also, please write to your MP to urge them to vote against Clause 119, and to vote for an amendment tabled by Paul Burstow MP. And finally, if you’re in London, please come to the following protests: Monday March 10, 6-8pm on College Green opposite Parliament, St Stephen’s Entrance, and Tuesday March 11, 11.30am-12.30 on College Green. As the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign explains, this will be a noisy protest, so bring whistles, saucepans etc.
On February 27, 2014, supporters of the NHS handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, signed by nearly 150,000 people, calling for health secretary Jeremy Hunt to withdraw Clause 119 of the Care Bill (colloquially known as the ”hospital closure clause”), which, if not withdrawn, will allow the government — and senior NHS managers — to “close viable hospitals without proper consultation.”
The handing in of the petition was followed by a demonstration outside Parliament and a Parliamentary meeting attended by Andy Burnham MP, the shadow health secretary, and all are featured in my photos above.
Clause 119 (formerly Clause 118) was cynically tagged onto the Care Bill by the government in autumn after the high court and then the appeals court ruled that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital, as part of the proposals for dealing with an indebted neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, were unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT Feb. 26: I have just found out that Clause 118 of the Care Bill, discussed in this article, which is intended to allow the government to close any hospital they wish without detailed consultation, has had its numbering changed, and is now Clause 119. Read it here, and please sign the 38 Degrees petition initiated by Louise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Please also sign and share the new 38 Degrees petition, “Cameron and Clegg: Protect Our Hospitals,” which has secured nearly 150,000 signatures in just two days.
Please, if you care about the future of the NHS, and if you’re British, write to your MP now and ask them to vote against Clause 118 in the Care Bill, which will be voted on early next month, and, if you’re in London, please consider attending a protest outside Parliament this Thursday, February 27 (details below).
Readers will hopefully be aware that, in October 2012, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a major campaign to save Lewisham Hospital from being severely downgraded to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust (in the neighbouring boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley) under legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime.
25,000 of Lewisham’s 270,000 residents took to the streets a little over a year ago, and although heath secretary Jeremy Hunt approved the proposals put forward by Matthew Kershaw, the NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of the SLHT, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and Lewisham Council launched two judicial reviews, which, in July, met with success, when a judge ruled that Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully in approving the plans. Hunt appealed, but lost again in October. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been some time since I wrote about this wretched government’s vile assault on the disabled, through the rigged assessments (the Work Capability Assessments) administered by the multinational company Atos Healthcare, and designed to find as many mentally and physically disabled people as possible “fit for work” so their support can be cut. See some of my previous articles – Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability Tests, Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?, Photos of the Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in London, Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled, The Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite and Photos: The 10,000 Cuts and Counting Protest in Parliament Square, September 28, 2013.
Nevertheless, not a day has gone by without me thinking about the horrors of life under the Tories — and their assault not just on the disabled but also on the unemployed and the underpaid — and being close to despair at how my fellow citizens, in significant numbers, have embraced the filthy lies spewing from the lying lips of ministers and the merchants of hatred and division in the tabloid newspapers.
In response to this assault, campaigners launched an e-petition in December 2012, which became known as the WOW petition (war on welfare), and which called for a cumulative impact assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers, and an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association in June 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
This is rather last minute, but I hope it will be useful. The nursing campaign group, the 4:1 Campaign, has organised a protest outside the Department of Health (on Whitehall, almost opposite 10 Downing Street), tomorrow lunchtime (Tuesday November 26, 2013), from noon until 2pm, and I am going to go along as one of the speakers.
The “Rally for the NHS” is described on Facebook as a response to “disastrous news about the NHS” in recent weeks, “from the RCN [Royal College of Nursing] revealing the NHS has over 20,000 nursing vacancies, to the Department of Health’s decision to downgrade (effectively close) 100 A&E departments.”
The campaigners add, “We believe those who support the NHS, its staff and patients need to provide an alternative vision for the future of the NHS. That’s why we are going to be outside the Department of Health on the 26th with our own proposals for how to protect and improve the NHS. The rally will last from 12-2 outside the DoH in Whitehall, with speakers and stunts to highlight different aspects of the crisis afflicting the NHS, while giving an opportunity for health workers and patients to give their solutions to the crisis being created in the NHS.” Read the rest of this entry »
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