Friday, 7 August 2009

What 'cuts' really means

A typically angry piece in The Independent by Johann Hari, detailing what cutting public spending in a recession actually entails for Britain:
Help for elderly people to stay in their own homes is being sawed off. Imagine you are assessed as having "basic" or "intermediate" needs: it means you are "unable to carry out several personal care or domestic routines", such as washing yourself throughly, or cooking an egg. Now, in more than 75 per cent of the country, you get no paid visitors or supervision any more. You have to wait until you hurt yourself.

Even then, you will now find only overstretched services with little to offer. Prices for meals on wheels have soared under the recession, so the number of elderly people who can afford this one hot meal a day has haemorrhaged away. Three councils – Northumberland, West Berkshire and Wokingham – have cancelled them altogether, except for those elderly people assessed as having their "life in danger". It means a lot of frightened old people who can barely leave their homes – the generation who saved us all from Nazism – are being left a little more lonely and a little more hungry and a little more abandoned.

Another unnoticed target of cuts is Britain's rape victims. This country has one of the lowest rates of rape conviction in the democratic world: barely 5 per cent of rapists end up behind bars. One of the reasons why we manage to convict even that puny dribble is that we have an excellent network of rape crisis centres, where victims can find a safe place to describe what has happened to them, receive counselling and treatment and gather the courage to approach the police. A friend of mine only managed to take her rapist to court after their careful, caring support. But more than 100 local authority services don't have a rape treatment centre at all, and more than half of the existing centres face the prospect of closure owing to funding shortfalls.

The guillotine also fallen on the programmes to help recent immigrants who desperately want to learn English and integrate into British life. In 1998, the Government introduced free English language classes for refugees and poor immigrants.

-snip-

At Tower Hamlets College, courses have been slashed by half, a pattern repeated across the country. Many of the people who used to come, from Somalian cleaners to Chinese migrant workers, can't any more because fees have been imposed. As a result, they are more likely to be ripped off for less than the minimum wage, less able to report crime and less able to enrich our society with their thoughts and dreams and labour. (1)

Remember, this is in Britain, a country that has actually taken some steps to stimulate its economy and avoid it collapsing. In New Zealand, our Pollanna PM has done nothing but invoke rugby metaphors - no-one seems to have told him that for a rolling maul, you actually need to have players on the field, and he has none - and slash away at public spending.

So programmes and services for vulnerable people are being cut - like those detailed above. Like training and education for beneficiaries (2). And health services (3). Policing (4).

And that's just the repugnant side of it, the part that gets measured strictly in terms of increased hardship and diminished opportunity. There might be a -shitty - justification for it f the policy was likely to bring about some collective good by kickstarting the economy. But they won't because whatever trivial saving Bill English is making by intensifying the misery of vulnerable New Zealanders isn't being directed into stimulating the economy, sufficiently. We have a vague, laughable idea of a cycle way, to be constructed for virtually nothing in a typical piece of Keyist positive thinking, and a short term program to subsidise youth employment (5) - which isn't the same as creating jobs or opportunity for them. Its a break for the employer, another example of the private sector being funded from the public purse. Some rolling maul.

So what National's cuts and 'do nothing' policies will mean is that New Zealand will be stuck in recession for longer - until we're dragged out of it by overseas economies recovering. but we'll have been in it longer, and deeper. ANd behind all the talk of cuts and capping, the reality of people having their lot made a littl ebit more onerous by their ideologically blinkered government.
1 - "So we can't afford not to cut. But can we afford deprivation?," by Johann Hari, published in The Independent, 7th of August, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-so-we-cant-afford-not-to-cut-but-can-we-afford-deprivation-1768381.html)
2 - "Axing of Training Incentive Allowance unfair move," press release by the Alliance Party, 22nd of June, 2009. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/ED0906/S00060.htm)
3 - "National cuts health services for thousands of patients," press release by the Labour Party, 5th of August, 2009. (http://www.labour.org.nz/news/national-cuts-health-services-thousands-patients)
4 - "Police vehicle fleet to be reduced in size," unattributed NZPA atricle. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz, 16th of June, 2009. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/2504542/Police-vehicle-fleet-to-be-reduced-in-size)
5 - "Govt to spend $152m on youth employment," unattributed NZPA article. Reproduced on stuff.co.nz, 2nd of AUgust, 2009. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10588215)

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