Kate Thick: I just don't think this government deserves to be re-elected

Journal columnist Kate Thick on how, despite all the pain, the economic recovery is still paper thin

Danny Lawson/PA Wire A food bank
A food bank

I was struck by a letter printed in Saturday’s Journal. Lynne said politics was her life until she was diagnosed with skin cancer and forced to move north because of the bedroom tax on her Midland’s village house.

She wrote, “I’ve been stripped of £62 per fortnight. I was sitting with no heating on, no food. This shouldn’t be happening in this day and age. I hope this government realises the destruction this had on my life, and others”.

Polly Toynbee, author and columnist for the Guardian, agrees with the Institute for Fiscal Studies; the poorest in society and those in their 20s have been hardest hit by the last five budgets.

Ms Toynbee, talking at The Sage last week on Cameron’s legacy, summarised his assault on the state as “ruthless”.

She said Britain has become harder and meaner, more divided by class and region. Cameron’s aim in her view is to diminish the public realm by replacing public service provision with markets and contracts so cosseting the wealthy, and selling off our assets while abolishing the welfare state.

Cameron and Osborne are staying quiet on exactly how they would cut a further £12bn from already squeezed welfare budgets. Just to remind you, three-quarters of welfare cuts have been borne by low-income families in work, not by the feckless.

Toynbee sharpened my fear that we are heading for the most unequal Britain in decades.

Silly me, I thought government was about achieving the common good. Why are we decimating public services because of a Tory obsession with deficit reduction?

Cameron has been accused of ‘living in a parallel universe’ after announcing recently that councils in the North East could make more cuts. The IFS says Labour’s slower plan to end the deficit needs no cuts.

Despite public opinion turning against austerity, Miliband is oddly shy of touting his plan. Perhaps he fears looking feckless but somebody has to speak up for the vulnerable. Perhaps I am a leftie dinosaur but I want fairness, a state defined by its values, not individualism.

Across England, according to a Financial Times article on the election, the indifference and disaffection of the electorate has been palpable.

Toynbee is worried by the silence. She estimates that over 80% of the media is a voice for the Tories as the press barons, Murdoch et al, are rich and right-wing. The poorest are disengaged, invisible, disenfranchised, too busy trying to survive.

There are fewer mechanisms left through which to protest, especially since the government imposed the Lobbying Act to gag charities campaigning in an election year.

Ron Beadle in his column last week said the theme of this election will be disillusionment. The election debate needs inspiring, contrasting ideologies to convince us that politics is important and voting matters.

I think the choice sort of boils down to this: the Tories want to balance the books while wrecking public services; Labour wants to halt the juggernaut of privatisation and fragmentation overrunning the NHS and other services.

Both parties have ruled out big increases in the taxes (income, national insurance and VAT) that raise 60% of revenues. Crazy. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK is the only country in the G7 where income tax receipts have not helped to close the deficit.

Economic recovery in northern regions is patchier and far less well entrenched as higher employment figures are mostly due to part-time jobs.

After years of neglect, the chancellor jumps on creating a “northern powerhouse” but he can see no further than Manchester. That’s right; Newcastle, Teesside and Northumberland get no mention.

Hence the momentum behind decentralisation. Devolution may have to be the key to investment north of the M25, making the most of EU funding for development. Leave the EU? Crazy idea.

The deficit has not gone away at all. The average UK household will owe nearly £10,000 by the end of 2016 which is a new high according to accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Confederation of British Industry in its monthly health check said order books for UK factories have stagnated.

Think of Lynne. A lot of pain, yet the economic recovery is only paper thin.

If you are disabled or are a care worker on a zero-hours contract, you’re on your own. I just don’t think this government deserves to be re-elected.


David Whetstone
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