The welfare state is the latest victim of the market’s corruption of all it touches. Fighting like hell is the only option
It’s almost unbearable to wake up to a world in which the welfare state that has defended us from the worst excesses of the market is being destroyed. The only way to hold on to the last vestiges of entitlement, and even reverse defeats, is to fight like hell.
Bereaved but determined families pursuing those who neglected vulnerable patients in Staffordshire had to do a massive piece of organising before the deaths of hundreds were looked into. (Other suspect hospitals are emerging.)
Parents of children needing heart surgery organised against closure of the Leeds heart unit and won a court judgment. Then they had to struggle to prevent that judgment from being circumvented. But they did it.
Attacks on people with disabilities were unthinkable. Now suicides and premature deaths of sick and disabled people targeted by the work capability assessment and other cuts are described by campaigners as “genocide by the back door”.
Single-mother families and large families were protected. Now children in low-income families have become “extra“, targeted even before birth by adoption targets or, once born, by exclusion from schooling and social housing. Asbos and heavy sentences await the inevitable rebellion and protest, including against rising racism.
How did it get to be so threatening to so many?
When the women’s movement began in the 1970s, women were the carers. Working-class women also did waged jobs, but the wellbeing of children and others remained the primary concern. Women formed the movement not to eliminate caring but the dependence, isolation, servitude, invisibility and almost universal discrimination that a wage-dominated (ie male-dominated) society imposed on the unwaged carer.
The women’s movement faced a choice. It could embrace the market: careers for some and low-paid jobs for most. Or it could find another way to live: demanding that the work of reproducing the human race was recognised as central to all priorities. Getting wages from the state for this work, carers would help reshape all social relationships: reorganising work to incorporate men into caring and women into – everything.
Feminism largely chose the market. This enabled governments to demean rather than recognise caring. “Workless”, according to New Labour, mothers are now urged to “do the right thing” – go out to work irrespective of workload, childcare, the needs of those who depend on us.
Cuts in social services and public-sector jobs attack women – three-quarters of public employees. Government aims to push women into the private sector which pays – especially women – less and demands more. This lowers wages generally, imposing working conditions previously unthinkable. Already more families with adults in jobs are in poverty than families where adults are unemployed. When government says it wants “work to pay”, it means driving claimants below the lowest paid: from poverty to destitution, unable to refuse £1 or £2 an hour (many immigrants face this).
The market, which we are urged to love, honour and obey (Marx said it was a fetish), has corrupted all it touches, including the life of the planet. When recently a scientist warned of imminent destruction from climate change, we were told it would be “impractical” to try to stop it. Incredibly, the media did not gasp at this suicidal greed.
Many people say this is not the society they want to live in. But how can we confront all that needs changing?
First we must acknowledge the thousands already refusing hospital and library closures, cuts in benefits and legal aid, factory farming (concentration camps for animals), a poisonous food industry, toxic pharmaceuticals, media-police corruption, sale of playing fields, tax havens, warmongering, criminalisation of protest … Campaigns share one vital tenet: our entitlement to what we are struggling to reclaim.
Our problem is not only that we have allowed cuts – and perhaps the unkindest cut has been of the universality of child benefit, the money that recognises society’s responsibility for children. Our problem is that it has seemed foolish and impractical to dare to challenge the market when no major party is on our side.
With a three-way coalition against us, this has got to be a DIY job. On 1 May, International Workers’ Day, the Global Women’s Strike will launch the petition “Invest in a Caring Society: A living wage for mothers and other carers” – aiming to “redirect economic and social policies towards people and the planet and away from the uncaring market”. A challenge to the market by women, the carers, can only strengthen all those already fighting like hell.
Chancellor to beef up £80bn loans scheme amid US calls for Britain to tone down austerity measures
George Osborne will announce an expansion of the Bank of England’s £80bn funding for lending scheme (FLS) ahead of a visit to Britain by the International Monetary Fund next month, as he seeks to head off calls for a softening of government austerity plans.
High-street banks are to be given added incentives to extend credit to small and medium-sized businesses in an expansion to the scheme, due in the next fortnight.
An IMF mission arrives in London for two weeks of talks on 8 May and Osborne plans to launch the beefed-up FLS in an attempt to persuade the fund that the coalition can boost growth without doing a U-turn on its deficit-reduction strategy. Discussions between the Treasury and the Bank have concluded that high-street lenders need further inducement to pass on the benefits of subsidised lending to companies.
The FLS was launched last August and offered subsidised credit to high street banks, provided they passed on the benefits to households and businesses. Figures so far have shown a pick-up in lending for mortgages but no increase in business lending. The Bank always envisaged that it would take time for loans to SMEs to increase, but minutes of the April meeting of its nine-strong monetary policy committee, released last week, signalled support for an expansion of the scheme.
With the business secretary, Vince Cable also pressing for action to help SMEs, Osborne has been keen for the Bank to increase the generosity of the FLS, but the need to target help to the corporate sector has been given added urgency by the imminent arrival of the IMF for its annual article IV consultation.
Last week, the IMF embarrassed the chancellor by urging a rethink of a tax and spending policy that will involve cutting Britain’s structural budget deficit by 1% of national output this year.
The fund has told the chancellor that it is worried about the weakness of demand in the UK and will be asking whether he has any alternatives to changes his budgetary stance.
The chancellor was stung by last week’s criticism from the fund. He argued that he had already taken steps in the budget to boost growth. He pointed out to Christine Lagarde, the fund’s managing director, during talks in Washington last week that the government had already adopted a flexible approach to austerity by pushing back the timetable by two years for debt to peak as a share of national output.
But the IMF is convinced that the UK is still operating well below its full potential. It is keen to discover in its talks next month why the economy has failed to respond to four years of unprecedented monetary stimulus. During this time bank rates have been pegged at 0.5% and the Bank has created £375bn of electronic money through its quantitative easing programme.
The fund believes that its rich-country members have generally been over-hasty in their aggressive approach to deficit reduction, and that less of the fiscal pain should have been front-loaded.On Saturday, a communique released at the end of a meeting of the IMF’s policymaking committee said that where country circumstances allowed, governments should avoid responding to weak growth with fresh attempts to cut deficits, focus on the underlying health of public finances once the effects of the ups and downs of the economic cycle were taken into account, and allow borrowing to rise if activity was depressed.
It added that monetary policy alone was not sufficient to produce a lasting global recovery, noting that a credible medium-term plan to improve the state of public finances together with structural reform were needed.
“Eventual exit from monetary expansion will need to be carefully managed and clearly communicated”, it said, reflecting widespread concerns in Washington last week that central banks faced a tricky task when the time came to raise interest rates and to sell the government bonds purchased under QE programmes.