Ten Years of the Austerity Crisis
By Marcus Johns, IPPR North
On June 22nd, 2010, the then Chancellor delivered his first budget. He said: “we are all in this together.” He said his Government would “protect the most vulnerable in our society.” That budget started the imposition of a decade of austerity. On June 22nd 2020, IPPR North published new research into the impact that ten years of austerity has had. It highlights the damage that the austerity programme, pursued by successive governments, has done to our region and our resilience to face today’s challenges.
IPPR has previously comprehensively argued that austerity has been a failure: economically, fiscally and socially. And, IPPR North has pointed to its disproportionate impact on the North and the role it has played in holding back our region, taking in the North West, North East, and Yorkshire and the Humber.
In our new research, we reveal that despite promises, we were not all in this together. Many of the cuts and impacts of the cuts were felt unequally between different people and different places. There are stark regional differences.
Despite promises, the most vulnerable in our society were not protected. For example, 5,165 households in the North now live in temporary accommodation because of homelessness. This includes bed & breakfasts, the quality of which has been found severely lacking in many cases.
Over half of these households include children, who are growing up in dire conditions. In the North West alone, the number of children living in temporary accommodation skyrocketed from 910 in 2009 to 4,580 in 2019. From welfare reform to an undersupply of social housing – austerity has created a generationally significant
Another example of austerity’s impact is the growing dysfunction of adult social care. Many of our most vulnerable older people are trapped in hospital beds ready to move into more appropriate settings. This is a symptom of the near permanent social care crisis, arising from squeezed council budgets while demand for many social care
services has risen.
From education to health, many people’s life chances, especially in the North and especially our most vulnerable, have been damaged. For ten years, opportunities were missed to improve people’s lives. In fact, these were ten years of a programme that actively undermined them.
Much noise, until Covid-19’s scale became clear, was made of a booming economy. But, the reality is that benefits of growth did not flow to normal people.
As their public services and their social safety net were pummelled, people’s pay stagnated and their job quality came under pressure. Work diminished as a route out of poverty as the institutional capacity to relieve poverty was withdrawn by central government decisions.
Austerity is a decade-long crisis, it has caused many decade-long crises including in council funding, and it has undermined our region’s resilience.
We now find ourselves in another, acute crisis with Covid-19. As the disease spread and the country locked down, our public services and local councils responded, admirably. But their foundations are weak following these ten years; they lack financial stability, have hundreds of thousands fewer staff, and Westminster continues to hoard the power and resources they need to handle this crisis and build back better.
Whatever the policy rhetoric around ‘Levelling up’ means to Government, the North and its people’s potential cannot be realised until the true scale of the challenges created by austerity are understood, unpicked, and undone.
A recovery from the crisis caused by Covid-19 to the status quo would remain a social, economic, and environmental crisis. We need a sustained long-term investment – not just in infrastructure but in our people too, to rebuild people’s life chances and allow them to flourish. And through real devolution, our people must be given the powers across the towns, cities and regions of England to decide how building back from 10 years of austerity and the Covid-19 crisis will serve them and their futures.