Following the TUC March for the Alternative last month, the fightback in support of government cuts has begun. A mirror image of that protest, the ‘Rally against Debt’ is being held in central London on May 14th, coincidentally also the date of the FA cup final when the capital is traditionally invaded by large numbers from the provinces. On the rally right-leaning groups and individuals intend highlighting their view that “substantial spending cuts” are required to tackle the deficit. Their assumption that the deficit needs tackling so immediately and aggressively is a moot point and it will also be a real blow to the credibility of the rally if they’re outnumbered by replica shirt-wearing beer-drinkers. The attendance could be outnumbered by the four match officials however, and it wouldn’t matter so much as that the affluent participants feel able to support the cuts because they are insulated from them.
It might seem from their coverage that the cuts are universal, so widespread that no-one is spared from their effects. But the things deemed expendable are more often those services which the well-off have less need of than the poor. Removing the target to see A & E patients within 4 hours and then unsurprisingly having 65% more patients fail to do so than before is a betrayal of the pledge to protect the NHS. The target that outpatients should be treated within 18 weeks of referral has also been breached for the first time. The affluent have the choice to buy their way up a waiting list by attending a private hospital, but the poor do not. The same applies to cuts to libraries. If you are on the breadline, nipping down to a bookshop for a literature fix cannot be top of your list of priorities. Sure Start centres might be used by a wide section of society, but the middle class mumsnetters will be a whole lot more successful living without them when they’re closed down. Social mobility won’t be helped by cuts to EMA, meant to help lower-income students stay in higher education. Local Authority-led community programmes to aid the vulnerable like REACH, used almost exclusively by the disadvantaged, are at risk thanks to the cuts. The people most likely to lose their jobs as the public sector sheds workers? The low-paid, of course.
Perhaps if the cuts targetted things the affluent genuinely valued, they might not be so supportive of them. What if we decided to turn off the street lights, cut all road-mending programmes, or cancel all refuse collections, forcing everyone to take their own rubbish to the tip? None of these will happen, nor should they. But the affluent will sooner or later realise, for instance, that cuts to law enforcement are affecting frontline numbers and that crime rates will therefore inevitably rise. That despite what they are being led to believe, the cuts will affect them eventually in all kinds of subtle ways as our nation becomes a less pleasant place. When that realisation kicks in we can only hope that they’ll be too busy to go on marches apparently designed to antagonise those who are struggling to get by.