How Labour should end austerity

Submitted by AWL on 11 September, 2019 - 7:31 Author: Chris Reynolds

Since 2010 austerity has ground down working-class living standards for the benefit of the ultra-rich. Life has been made meaner and more insecure.

Boris Johnson now says he will end austerity. But that is all a matter of previously-budgeted money being “recycled” and called expansion, and random promises to try to win a general election after which he will be free to do his right-wing worst for five years.

The NHS and social care have been squeezed so that waiting lists expand and A&E wait times explode. Hospitals routinely run at the upper limit of capacity, so that an epidemic, or an unusually harsh winter, would throw them into chaos.

Resources are wasted by elaborate bureaucratic procedures for “contracting out” services to private profiteers.

Market forces have also damaged education. More than half all schools in England are now “academies” or “free schools”, funded directly by central government, and exempt from many of the standards applying to local authority schools.

Academy chain bosses have established elaborate management hierarchies, and paid themselves huge salaries. From academy chain CEO to Executive Principal to Principal to Head of School to an army of Vice-Principals is now not an atypical superstructure of suits-in-offices to find on top of the actual classroom work.

In repeated scandals, some of them have been found out scooping out of school funds for personal expenses, or granting lush contracts to companies controlled by their friends or relatives.

Meanwhile basic school budgets have been squeezed. Provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities has been squeezed especially.

Further education has been squeezed even more.

Universities have expanded, but on the basis of ever-swelling student debt and worsened pay and conditions for staff (other than a few “star” professors and money-grabbing Vice-Chancellors).

Benefits, especially working-age benefits, have been cut again and again. These cuts have particularly hit the disabled and families for whom the “bedroom tax” and housing-benefit ceilings have made rent unaffordable.

Homelessness has soared.

The benefit cuts have been packaged into Universal Credit. Universal Credit itself has added suffering because of the difficulties of applying (online only), the delays in payment, and erratic effects of wage schedules on what claimants get.

Local government services have been cut worst of all. Social care and libraries have been hit especially hard.

In 2017 Labour pledged to take about £50 billion a year more in taxes from the rich and well-off in order to rebuild the “social wage”.

It should reaffirm that pledge. And more. NHS, school, benefit, and local government budgets should be restored to their levels before the cuts.

And more again. The housing squeeze cannot be dealt with just by reversing cuts. A Labour government needs to launch a big programme of building and converting housing, to provide local authority housing at cheap rents for all who need it.

Tenants renting housing from private landlords should have rights of secure tenure and to have “fair rents” set.

Labour should also commit to repair the damage to structures done by the Tories. The Blair and Brown governments, in a period of relative economic boom, expanded NHS and school budgets significantly, but did great structural damage, which has since been worsened by the Tories.

The NHS should be restored as an integrated public service, closely connected with adequately-funded, publicly-run social care.

All schools should be brought back into democratic local authority control. Student fees should be abolished.

The whole welfare system should be reoriented to provide for need, rather than designed as a punitive bludgeon to force people into insecure low-wage jobs.

The expansion of the public services necessary to restore the “social wage” will create good new jobs. So will the decarbonising measures of a socialist Green New Deal. That — plus reducing the overwork of those already employed — is the way to get people into jobs.

Local government autonomy, whittled away for decades now, since Thatcher, should be restored,

Labour should also commit to a crucial measure underpinning all the others. The anti-union laws, dating from Thatcher’s day, which outlaw solidarity strikes, political strikes, quick-response strikes, and effective picketing, must be repealed.

A strong trade union movement will be an enforcer and a guarantor for revived public services and benefits. It will counter and tame the punitive and overprivileged managerial hierarchies which have grown up across the public sector.

Without a strong trade union movement, a simple increase in public service funding can be siphoned off into increased managerial salaries and more elaborate contracting-out procedures. And it will be vulnerable to shrinkage whenever world capitalism runs into crisis.

Free our unions!

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