Blog: Austerity only points to failure

Twelve years of the Tory ‘experiment’ of austerity have only seen sluggish growth and damaged public services – more of the same won’t suddenly produce better results

Christina McAnea and four members deliver a petition to No10 Downing Street

Fiscal competence, sound money and economic stability. These buzz words are sensible aims for a government, but don’t describe the achievements of the one that’s been in power for 12 years in Westminster.

I’m not only talking about the disaster gamble that happened just eight weeks ago. Of course, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng pushed our economy over a cliff edge, but Conservative MPs are the ones who’d been dragging it there since 2010.

Their long ‘experiment’ with austerity has left a legacy that can only point to failure. Starving the NHS and all public services of funding has done nothing for economic growth. It’s resulted in struggling services, declining pay for the people providing them, and a recruitment and retention crisis – particularly in the NHS.

Data from the Health Foundation shows that NHS spending over the last 10 years lags way behind Europe by £40bn a year. Had there been greater investment in the NHS, the UK wouldn’t have been so vulnerable when COVID-19 hit, and it would have recovered quicker. It’s no wonder our members working in health services are fed up, and are now voting on whether to take industrial action for the first time in years.

During the summer, while the economic crisis festered, the people in power were too busy arguing amongst themselves about who should be in charge. The new prime minister and chancellor are now saying they’ll stabilise the economy and reduce inflation by simply repeating the same failed austerity programme. And I hear the original austerity architect, former chancellor George Osborne, has been advising the government.

But as Jeremy Hunt admits the NHS is “on the brink of collapse” and Rishi Sunak rightly points out that “we face a profound economic crisis”, how can they think that austerity will fix it?

It’s no longer an experiment. It’s been proven to produce sluggish growth, open up vulnerabilities in our public services, and cause declining living standards and pay for millions of working people across the UK.

Despite the chancellor’s claims of wanting to “protect the vulnerable, because to be British is to be compassionate”, it’s reported that free school meals in England won’t be expanded, energy bills will rise dramatically again in April, and despite public sector pay lagging way behind inflation and private sector pay, it’s about to be capped at 2%.

Choosing to go down this route again only begs the question – who is this government really working for? These aren’t the choices of a government on the side of working people, nor is it a government on the side of public services. But UNISON is still fighting for our members and the public services they provide.

Earlier this week I handed in a petition of over 180,000 signatures to No10 Downing Street (pictured above), calling on the government to end the pay crisis with a £15 an hour minimum wage and an inflation-busting pay rise for public sector workers.

Yesterday I wrote to the Chancellor asking him to do the same, because ending the pay crisis should be at the forefront of the government’s plans to support working people and grow the economy.