Monday, August 16, 2010

It takes a nation of homeowners to hold us back

I have a deep sense of foreboding about this government. I didn't vote for them, fairly obviously, but I don't believe that the people who did vote for them are getting what they voted for, especially the ones who put the tick in the orange box. Instead they are getting to witness the taking of a battering ram to the public sector - up to and including the NHS and the BBC. And like Humpty Dumpty, once it falls off the wall, that's it, we've had it, we are living in America.

It's being sold as inevitable, on the grounds that the last government broke the economy.

I believe this is bullshit on both counts. It's not inevitable, and it wasn't the government that broke the economy, it was the unregulated hyper-capitalist banking system. No. This a concerted attack on local government, the post-war welfare state and anything funded with public money.

The private sector can do it better, they argue, and if the private sector can't do it better we shouldn't be doing it at all. I don't agree. As my friend Dr A put it recently, it's "more about the ideology of a smaller state than the economics of a smaller deficit".

For the middle classes, things may get tighter, but relatively few things will break (though, with luck, Cath Kidston's bottom line might suffer a bit). It's the breadline workers and those reliant on benefits (who are often the same people, or in the same households) whose coping strategies will fail. I'd recommend Polly Toynbee's Hard Work, a book which paints a bleak picture of life in low-pay Britain. And that was under a Labour government who invested in improvements to social housing and introduced a minimum wage.

Some of the people she worked with are dinner ladies and hospital porters, who were once public sector employees. These jobs still have to be done (at least while we still believe we should feed schoolchildren and wheel people round hospitals) but they are now done by agency staff who are worse paid, unrepresented, and have minimal job security.

There's money being made, tons of it, but it's not going into their pockets. The private companies which took over these contracts, and will take over many more essential services, are constituted to make money for their shareholders. They will pay as little as they can get away with, and cut whatever corners can be cut, in order to maximise their profits. That's what private service provision companies do. That's what they have to do. CSR only comes into it if someone with a spreadsheet has worked out that it's a money-spinner. They would pay less than the minimum wage if there wasn't a law against it.

This is what we will see more of. Less accountability, worse services, and more money in fewer pockets. Depend on it.

I do think it was time for a change of leadership, and I also think there are policy areas where reform is much needed. Too much time at the top is bad for anyone, and even the most faithful had lost their faith in shiny Tony (and isn't he looking old these days?) and dull Gordon. I wasn't one of the most faithful - I have never been a member of any political party - but I believed, at the beginning, in the New Labour project, and only later wondered exactly what it was which was sold down the river in the name of electability. The public gets what the public wants, until there's a Global Financial Meltdown, and that's part of the problem.

Ultimately, I wish, as a nation, we were braver. I wish we were genuinely prepared to throw our private hat collections in a communal ring, and could do so with the confidence that our freely-elected milliners were the best they could be. Sadly, this is not the case. They say we get the government we deserve, and sometimes I think they might be right.

I am thinking radical thoughts. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.


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Blogger Neil said...

Well said Jo. After a lifetime working in the public sector I have never been so depressed about the future. Our council is looking to make massive cuts in a very short time (after three years of making significant efficiencies but at a sensible pace - and not because we were told to) which are going to hurt local people and put more on the dole queue. Our contracts are being slashed and our building programme reduced. How does help the economy to grow?

7:19 am  
Anonymous looby said...

It's like the 80s all over again.

10:25 pm  

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