So what do we need to cut?

There are voices on the Left that apparently refuse to acknowledge the need for any substantial spending cuts to deal with the deficit. This is disingenuous because it does not acknowledge the true extent of the UK’s economic predicament. As a result, any critique of George Osborne’s economic policy from the Left is less likely to be taken seriously.

It is worth recalling the economic situation the UK found itself in last year.

At the beginning of 2010, the European commission predicted that the 2010/2011 UK budget deficit would be the biggest in the European Union when they predicted it to be 11.6% of GDP, exceeding even Greece and Ireland. Source: Guardian

The EU recommends that budget deficits do not exceed 3% of GDP.

The European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said of the then impending new Government:

“The first thing for the new government to do is to agree on a convincing, ambitious programme of fiscal consolidation in order to start to reduce the very high deficit and stabilise the high debt level of the UK.”

There was a broad consensus on the need for substantial cuts among both political parties. The then Chancellor Alastair Darling committed the Labour party to halving the deficit by the end of the parliament; a policy he described as ‘more radical than Thatcher’. This policy has been maintained by the Labour party since the election of ‘Red Ed’ Miliband. The debate to be had is on the pace and depth of cuts with the Tories aiming to eliminate the deficit in one term.

This is not the debate being argued in the liberal comment pieces. While no liberal commentator openly states there should be no cuts, there are few suggestions as to where the cuts should actually fall.

Writing in the Guardian, The author Phillip Pullman decries the proposed closure of 20 public libraries by his local Oxfordshire council. At a time of cost cutting, it is reasonable to assume that libraries would be a more appropriate target for cuts than other front line services. You may assume that Mr Pullman would argue why libraries should be saved over other services. However he absolves himself of making any such hard choices, instead offering blanket objections to his council leader: 

“The leader of the county council says cuts are inevitable, and invites us to suggest what we would do instead. Would we sacrifice care for the elderly? Or would youth services feel the axe? I don’t think we should accept his invitation. It’s not our job to cut services. It’s his job to protect them.”

If Mr Pullman doesn’t want to answer difficult questions, maybe he shouldn’t enter the debate.

In a piece entitled ‘David Cameron’s assault on the homeless is Dickensian’ Johann Hari of the Independent criticises the government for slashing funding for the ‘Rough Sleepers Unit’, a scheme that has reduced homeless numbers by ’75 percent’. He also refers to ‘some 90,000 single tenants and 82,000 families [who] are facing eviction from their homes because of Housing Benefit cuts.’ Hari argues that ‘all’ such cuts could be avoided if the £1bn in taxpayers money paid to the RBS bankers had been ring fenced for the homeless.

This may well be the case. However, £1bn is a small portion of the cuts to be made over the 4 years. Not all the savings can simply be made from taxing bankers. There will be cuts that affect the middle and working classes – where are these going to come from? Which of these services should be cut? Johann Hari doesn’t address any of these questions in his article.

‘A week today the cuts start to bite’ is the first sentence of Amelia Gentleman’s Guardian article ‘Public Sector cuts – the Truth’. The article lists various services across the country affected by cuts from careers centres in deprived neighbourhoods to music lessons for children with learning disabilities. The conclusion criticises the ‘government mantra’ that ‘we should … do more for less’ by pointing out ‘The imminent disappearance of the jobs and services profiled here suggests we will simply end up with less’

Perhaps so, but it is worth remembering that Labour’s planned cuts in the first year (£14bn) were close to the coalition’s level (£16bn). Amelia Gentleman should be arguing why these services should be prioritised over say, Health or Education spending. She does suggest that they ‘may be easy to ignore’ not being as ‘dramatic as maternity awards [closures]’ but that is not the same as positively arguing why these services should be saved. Her article does paint a moving picture of the human cost of spending cuts but offers little in terms of policy proposals.

Voices on the Left are reluctant to deal with the hard questions of where substantial cuts should fall. Until they do, the government can simply dismiss their arguments as naïve.

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