After more than a decade of imposed austerity, we have become far too accepting of the latest round of measures – ‘cuts in public spending’, ‘withdrawal of social programmes’, ‘living within our means’ and ‘tightening our belts’.
We have also been conditioned not to question the austerity agenda, to believe that it is a natural phenomenon – that we are all in this together and that we must knuckle down and live with the consequences.
From 2008 onwards we were not subjected to draconian austerity measures because too much had been spent on public services, because the welfare budget had been too generous or because we had overspent on health, education or housing programmes. It was as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalising, and adding liquidity to a broken banking system.
Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer.
Cutting budgets, withdrawing funding and placing even more financial burdens on working people are all political decisions designed to secure the capitalist economy and re-affirm the relationship between those who produce the wealth and those who control it.
In the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont, civil servants here have been setting a budget, announcing unprecedented cuts to public services, mental health and social welfare schemes and community projects. Would it really have been any different if the Executive was up and running?
Amongst the austerity measures are proposals to radically change or withdraw concessionary travel passes. Charges for medical prescriptions will surely follow and water charges can’t be far behind.
It would be naïve in the extreme to believe that any of these measures have not been in draft waiting for the opportunity to force them through.
The political philosophy that sustains this type of austerity agenda is fundamentally opposed to the state having any control over or input into our basic utilities.
The State should have an absolute responsibility to provide housing, health and education, energy, water, transport, and social necessities such as internet access for all.
The current proposals on concessionary travel are not an economic issue, they are a social statement about the type of society that capitalist economics demands: everything is for sale, everything is an opportunity for profit. Social cohesion, wellbeing, physical and mental health and the concept of society are secondary considerations, if they figure at all.
The manner in which the main stream media has approached the concessionary fares question makes it all too easy for those pushing the agenda.
Not one major media outlet has seriously questioned why this debate has been started. They have not only accepted it, they have helped divert attention away from its motives by engineering smokescreen debates about means testing, shifting the discussion from government to individuals. “What would you cut instead”? is a popular distraction question.
The failure of the main stream media to interrogate the root causes and purposes of proposals like these, and the blind adherence to free market profiteering, have resulted in a two-pronged assault by ‘press release journalism’ and ‘spreadsheet economics’.
The distraction and deception continues with the dominating politics of nationalism, British and Irish, with their razzle dazzle rhetoric, flags, cultural crusades and ‘jam tomorrow’ promises.
The continuing, and forced, segregation of our children’s education costs in excess of £600,000 per day. Well over £200 million each and every year.
A conservative estimate on the price of keeping our 100 plus ‘peace walls’ would be around £2 billion annually. To that we can add the associated costs of running and maintaining ‘two communities’ and parallel societies. Factor in a morally and economically justifiable increase in Corporation Tax and all of a sudden our economic future takes on a different complexion.
For as long as nationalisms dominate the political debate, journalists consume what they’re fed and capitalist economics dictate the shape, content and direction of our lives, then potential will go unfulfilled, opportunities will be denied, and the cynical and deadly division of working people and the denial of their interests will triumph.
For those who hold a different world view, those on the Left, the agenda and the programme couldn’t be clearer, nor the responsibility to pursue that alternative more pressing. History will have an unsympathetic view if every opportunity to stem that tide and establish an alternative socialist society is not planned for, pursued and taken.
#austerity #concessionary travel