Over the last six years, austerity has become such a core element of government and politics that you’d be forgiven for almost forgetting what it’s actually about any more. Relentless sound bites about ‘balancing books’ and identikit images of ministers pursing their lips and looking sorrowful as they announce yet another cut have all contributed to a hypnotic lull around austerity. It is simply what is done and what must be done.
However, despite the rhetoric, we must never lose sight of the fact that austerity is not an economic policy, but an ideological campaign. It is not about financial prudence following the recession but strategic rolling back of the state and removal of support for vulnerable people, in line with the Conservatives’ ideology.
This was proven again this week, when it emerged that the Department for Work and Pensions’ fit-to-work assessments actually cost more money than they save. An official report by the government’s own financial watchdog revealed the damning fact that while the DWP is paying £1.6 billion for the tests between now and 2020, the system is expected to save the government less than £1bn during the same period.
The official report proves once and for all that the government’s narrative about cutting benefits to save money just isn’t true. The numbers simply don’t add up. Rather, the degrading, gruelling assessments of vulnerable and often severely disabled people which are being undertaken in the name of austerity are actually costing us more money than they save. The country is paying £600 million to actively hound vulnerable benefits claimants, with no benefit to taxpayers at all.
A critical glance elsewhere within the government’s austerity programme shows similar cracks through which their ideological motivations of rolling back the state and advancing middle class interests burst through, groaning under the strain of feigned sincerity about economic prudence.
We see it also in the relentless pursuit of benefit fraud while tax dodging of large corporations and high net worth individuals is ignored. And again, with how some of the poorest people in the country are hounded over the bedroom tax, while wealthy landlords are let off with scarcely any regulation.
Similarly, through the way in which xenophobia seems to set this country’s immigration policy, flying in the face of every fact which says that immigrants boost the economy and the NHS would struggle to survive without them.
We also saw it acutely when the DWP spent £8.45 million branding a cuddly mascot for a programme under which some people have been left so poor that they have reportedly starved to death.
Just because we have had six years of austerity rhetoric doesn’t mean that we should ever accept the government’s campaign of cuts is about being financially sensible rather than right-wing ideology. Prejudice against the working class is something the Conservatives have long-held; ‘austerity’ is merely being co-opted as the current convenient and socially acceptable veneer through which to administer it.
The government can try as much as it likes to frame the austerity debate as one of prudence, paternalism or public interest but the reality is that the numbers simply do not add up. Austerity in 2015 is not about economics but ideology, and the most vulnerable people in our society will suffer under it for as long as the Conservatives continue to convince us otherwise.