diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why are Britons so willing to accept cuts in public services?

Just to clarify, today's post isn't about you, it's about society as a whole. There will always be individuals who want the government to spend less on things, just as there'll always be individuals who want the government to spend more. That's perfectly natural, that's the way of things, that's politics. But the national mood has most definitely swung behind towards those happy to pay less, those who see cuts to public services as inevitable, those who accept austerity rather than rallying against it. And I wondered why.

Over the last century (and more), governments of all hues have built up considerable public infrastructure to support society. This includes the education system, a national transport network, the state pension, local government services, and of course the NHS. Various sectors have been squirrelled off to the private sector over the years, but we retain a core of key services paid for out of taxation. Your children are educated, your bins are emptied, soldiers defend your borders and your local care home is maintained. But more and more we're being told we simply can't afford to fund services at existing levels and that they must inexorably be cut back. And more and more the British public accepts this as reality, deeming it necessary, even essential, to the wellbeing of our nation. How did we get here?

There was a time when taxes went up as well as down. If the country needed to pay for something we dug our collective hands in our pockets and paid for it, even if we didn't especially enjoy doing so, in recognition of the greater good. We expected council tax to rise to pay for things that councils do, we expected that a better NHS required spending money, we expected to build more schools (and better schools) from the public purse, and we expected beer duty to rise and fall according to the proximity of the next election. The left liked it more and the right liked it less, but as a nation we generally backed the notion that governments spend money.

No longer. Our government is fixed on cutting costs faster than any government has cut before, hacking at departmental budgets across the board. Ministers have been forced to decide what to cull and what to keep, while those in charge of delivery attempt to plead their worth. A lot of this has been paraphrased as "making efficiencies", but after five years there's only so much dead wood left to hack, and the latest cuts go well below the surface. And yet the general public seem generally unfussed. A library goes missing and only a minority blink. Transport subsidies are whittled down and people continue to travel. Social security benefits are scaled back and those who don't need them simply nod. There's heartfelt opposition from the usual quarters, sure, but the majority of Britons aren't fussed.

And it's not just making cuts, it's not allowing spending to rise. Local government grants are capped, and elected authorities specifically barred from raising more. The licence fee is frozen to force the BBC to do more with less. Education authorities are obliged to match rising pupil numbers but prevented from opening new schools. The NHS retains notional protection but lacks the funding required to maintain an equivalent level of services. Decisions have been made and laws passed, essentially hardwiring our social infrastructure to drive itself down. And yet society continues to function, the argument goes, so why the hell were we spending such excessive amounts of money in the first place?

The government has successfully embedded acceptance of cuts into the national psyche. The deficit must be tamed, we're told, often enough that we believe it must be true. By driving home the message that public spending was once wildly irresponsible, we've come to yearn for the comfort blanket of spending less. Austerity must be embraced rather than queried, a philosophy repeated at every opportunity, the battle for hearts and minds now won. Living within our means has become the priority, with those in power able to decree a ceiling on acceptable levels of expenditure. Indeed so transformed is the electorate's mindset that even politicians on the left compete these days to prove their cutting credentials. The economic centre of our country has shifted so far that it's now more acceptable to close a library than to open one. What changed?

Many of us still hold exactly the same views as before, either that public spending is beneficial or that public spending is weak. So what must have changed are the opinions of the mainstream; cajoled, encouraged and convinced to believe that spending less is more. We've become a more self-centred society, unwilling to support others when we could keep that money for ourselves. If a dozen fewer fire engines means more money in our pockets, bring it on. If cutting tax credits for others means that our pensions rise above inflation, what's not to like? If we were interested in going to Birmingham we'd drive, so why subsidise the losers on the train? And yes, it might mean longer to wait for medical treatment in the future, but only sick people need the NHS, so spare cash for a daily cappuccino is much more welcome.

This must be a deep-seated shift, because the Conservatives deliberately promised to make swingeing cuts in the run up to the last election and in spite of this were voted back in. Be it economic caution or a desire to pocket more for ourselves, we're much more comfortable with lower public spending these days and we don't mind the consequences, because that's the kind of country we've become. And so the government's plan to roll back the state sector continues generally unopposed, until by the end of the decade several services will have been dismantled beyond the point at which they could ever be reassembled. Unless these cumulative cuts ever hit home and make us reconsider, expect our nation's transformation to continue.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards