This is the second article in the cost of living series by Economist Michael Burke for The People’s Assembly
There are huge cuts to public spending in the pipeline. Even most mainstream media are now willing
to admit it. These might come in the form of cuts to public sector pay and pensions as well as job
losses, or cuts to departmental spending or cuts to benefits and pensions. It is possible this
government will try a combination of all of them.
Even Jeremy Hunt uses the familiar code of ‘tough choices’ and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which
is very far from being a left-wing thinktank calls the decisions Hunt will make ‘scary’.
Politically the main task is to bring together the widest possible sections of society in opposition to
being made to pay for a crisis they did not create. First, that means all those directly affected by
Hunt’s measures (to be announced on October 31). This potentially includes everyone who relies on
the NHS or who has children in school, as well as public sector workers and pensioners.
That is a broad set of alliances already. Secondly, Hunt has already removed a large part of the
previously announced funding to hold back the rise in energy prices. The attack on public sector
wages, conditions and pensions is also being used as a battering ram against all workers, attempting
to set a much lower ‘going rate’ across the board.
As a result, the vast majority of society will be badly affected, with only the very highest paid, City
bankers and large shareholders exempted. The aim should be to unite them all to reverse these
policies and kick the government out. The main forces leading this fight will be the growing number
of trade unions taking industrial action.
The scale of the crisis that has been created is enormous. One estimate is that, even after Hunt tore
up most of Kwarteng’s policies there is a ‘hole’ in government finances of £72 billion. That’s
equivalent to more than £2,500 for every household in the country.
There is also no question who Hunt & co intend to plug that hole – workers and poor. Windfall taxes
plus taxes on wealth and unlearnt incomes should be the priority for any decent government. Make
those who caused the crisis pay for it. But these are ruled out by neoliberal governments almost
This is also not just about money. That is serious enough for those who have none and don’t know
how they will pay their next shopping or energy bill. But the future of the NHS, our local services and
our children’s education are all at stake.
We know now that the first wave of austerity caused 330,000 excess deaths. This wave will be just
as fierce. Opposing the government and opposing these policies is literally a matter of life and death.