Saturday, 12 January 2013

Austerity and “The Big Society Freeze”

2nd October - This year so far there has been mild weather and no big flu pandemic, yet still Woman dies in ambulance at Morriston Hospital A&E queue

The main problem last year in the UK was flooding, “austerity” was often cited as a problem - local councils cutting back on dredging rivers, especially. Prime Minister David Cameron used this as a photo opportunity - being seen walking in boots vthrough the water.

The current big international story is the Ebola outbreak in Africa - let's hope for another mild Winter and that Ebola can be controlled here and overseas alike.

“ Every year, mortality rises by 19% in the winter months in England. This amounts to an average of 27,000 “excess” winter deaths (EWDs); 90.8% of which last year were in the over 65 age group.

The majority of these deaths occur among older people, especially women, and those with underlying health problems. However, they are not people who would have otherwise died at that time. Most deaths are due to cardiac disease, strokes and respiratory problems, not hypothermia. The Marmot Review Team also found there was a greater risk of death in colder housing than in the warmest housing, estimating that 21.5% of all excess winter deaths could be attributed to cold homes. ”
Source: Ripped-off Britons


I'm afraid this piece is very anglocentric but it is, I believe, a credible piece of moral philosophy. The writing is thoroughly hyperlinked but non-British readers who wish to pursue it may find the following wikipedia entries useful in understanding it:
Universal Credit
Child Benefit
Fuel poverty in the United Kingdom
Eton College

What may happen in this blog is that actual academic philosophy may become somewhat separated from the practical application of it. It is very hard to say at this juncture as no real schema yet exists. Posts are frequently updated and may well become separated from their own content into sub-posts and so forth.

Social Context of “The Big Freeze” - “The Big Society Freeze”

The image above depicts a google search for cold warnings on bbc news .

N.B. In this piece I am not arguing anything at all about Syria just pointing out a contradiction in the Etonion UK government's attitude to it's own subjects and those of Syria. I think the situation in Syria is awful and inhumane but I don't want to get into the politics of that here.

I found that search result quite poignant because at the moment William Hague [wikipedia] is making much fuss about the Situation in Syria, saying that all options are open on Syria , including military assistance. This contradiction had occurred to me before and coincidentally while searching on articles on deaths due to cold in the UK, which I want to discuss the Syrian conflict came up.

I want to discuss this contradiction in the context of current Etonion “austerity”, policy, it's discourse, hypocrisy and moral failings.

The UK has just been hit by widespread floods and is about to be hit by calamitous prolonged cold and snow:

Prepare for impact: Government issues severe weather warning as Big Freeze heads our way [Daily Mirror]
UK facing snow threat amid freeze [BBC News]

All this at a time when Rising energy bills [are] causing fuel poverty deaths [BBC News] and Pensioners have just taken a significant Budget 2011: Winter fuel payment blow for pensioners. [BBC News]

We also have to focus on the relatively dire and chaotic state the National Health Service [NHS] is in due to Etonion austerity and privitisation - I predict that our NHS is going to be stretched to breaking point this Winter and that unfortunately many will die unnecessarily. Many others will suffer unduly in hospital, including overworked staff.

I haven't yet focused an the NHS r“reforms” (sic) in this blog but I have been reading about them for some time.

There is also growing demand for food banks in breadline Britain [BBC NEWS]. When you factor in prolonged cold and the costs of prescriptions for cold related illnesses you have to wonder how food banks and “ordinary working families” (“strivers” in the latest Etonion rhetoric) will cope.

As with the NHS it won't just be the end-users of food banks who suffer - greater demand means smaller portions - but also the volunteers. The once-vaunted Etonion ideology (mythology) of “The Big Society” has been long forgotten and the situation we are in now contradicts that phantom completely.

Of course, some good neighbours will look after each other, when they can afford to, but that has always been the case from time immemorial and austerity does nothing for that - making people poorer actually runs against the idea of “The big Society” because poor people have less power to help one another.

What the future holds

The worst of the Etonion reforms have yet to bite. Benefits will only be increasing by 1% not at the rate of inflation. Winter fuel payments will not increase at all. This 1% increase is also true of public sector pay: Poorest households will be hit hardest by benefit changes, Whitehall admits [Guardian] . This article is one of the best I have read on this topic. It's so easy to forget that “austerity” is not just all about the sick, disabled and unemployed but “we're all in this together” unless we're very rich. In my other, more (too?) academic piece on this topic The Discourse of austerity I've argued that even if you think tax breaks and austerity work in your favour you may be deceiving yourself.

Working people will be paying enhanced state pension credits but will not see the dividends until they retire. Under the Energy Bill we will all be paying for nuclear and wind power but will not see the (hypothetical) dividends until these resources are completed. Elderly people will be paying for resources they may never live to see. Does it really make sense to charge a shivering ninety nine year old for an nuclear power station? You might as well tax them for the afterlife.

If you are a “striver” you can “strive” less effectively if your parent, child or partner is sick.

As well as representing a real cut in living standards for millions of people universal credit may well bring additional problems. Do you prioritise heating and food over rent when you're penniless? Who can be so hardhearted as not to turn the heating up for their freezing children?

Austerity will drive people into the hands of high interest lenders who will use universal credit as security on their loans. I can image a cycle where the desperate borrow from their housing benefit (universal credit) then borrow from high rate lenders, then borrow from universal credit to repay the loans and gradually get into an enormous debt cycle that can lead to them becoming homeless.

There are many vulnerable people in society being exploited by false friends or outright criminals. Even though they will receive less money, they will have more money in their hands that can be taken off them once universal credit is introduced. This will also cause more homelessness and more problems for landlords, councils and housing associations. Homelessness itself makes suicide more likely, and significantly lowers life expectancy in general.

Lack of financial education costs UK £3.4 billion a year
Direct payment could undermine universal credit

In addition the are doubts that the IT systems are properly in place for for universal credit - Universal credit plan 'is a disaster in the making', says minister just months ahead of launch [Ripped-off Britons]

According to Iain Duncan Smith    Child-related benefits may be 'capped' at two children [BBC News] - given the foregoing I hope that all reasonable people can see the cruelty of this, some workers will have planned their families during better times, to punish their children with poverty during recession is nothing less than child abuse , as defined as willful neglect. This will, in some cases have a knock-on effect for social services and law enforcement. Some children may end up in care. all this costs society as well as those involved.

Not only the parent of a child is responsible for a child's well-being but the responsibility falls on the whole of society. Those that make policies in which it is impossible for the vulnerable to live are responsible for the harm that those policies inflict upon them.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Children And Families (DCF) define child maltreatment as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.[2] Child abuse can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological or emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Source, wikipedia:

Here I am using the term "child abuse in the same way you might use the term “institutionally racist”

Taken as a whole I think austerity abuses many of those it comes into contact with - I understand austerity as making vast sections of society suffer disproportionately so that the rich and powerful can get richer and more powerful. There may be some ideology that it's for the good of the nation “trickle down economics” but I think it's mostly driven by greed and a blind belief in superiority and entitlement.

Doctors dismayed as public health committee is scrapped [Guardian] - can this be the type of sequence of events that caused the Etonions to scrap this body they promised before the election? That their austerity project and its inevitable consequences are not compatible with public health?


It doesn't matter if you drop scud missiles upon your people, like Assad of Syria, does his own people but to make policies that rob them of their dignity and lead directly to death, displacement or harm is no different. An act is the same as an omission to act in terms of moral philosophy.

I contend that there is a blatant contradiction between the Etonions “concern” for the Syrian people when they don't even know how to treat their own people properly. I believe their disastrous policies will be laid bare by this oncoming weather and that many people are going to suffer horribly.
17 hospitals with unsafe staffing, says Care Quality Commission

I hope I am wrong about the consequences of the weather that is coming but I am pointing here to the adversity that confronts society as it braces itself for the oncoming storm. Whatever happens others may be feeling anxious about the weather and austerity, either in isolation or taken as a whole.

As I said in my last post on the discourse of austerity , austerity sets up a monte carlo situation - repeat (reiterate) this big freeze scenario enough times and sooner or later a situation will arise where you or your loved ones will come to harm the Etonions are gambling with the lives of others recklessly.

Of course, Assad is far worse a beast than the Etonions, I'm not asserting that they are morally equivalent, this is just a philosophical “attack” upon them. I am pointing out that their policies do harm to their people - will displace and kill them unnecessarily, that is all.

Additional links:
Fuel poverty 'spiraling', warns lobby group [BBC News]
Benefit cuts condemned by head of Church of England charity [Guardian]
Cold homes cost NHS more than a billion, Age UK study says [BBC News]
Poll Tax II: the coalition plans even bigger cuts to Council Tax Benefit
Former Bank of England rate setter blasts "nasty" Government for targeting ordinary working people

14/1/13 - more links

A lot of scandalous reports today (relevant to this topic) but Cameron is pulling another kansas city shuffle and making sure it's Europe that's in the news. Here are the relevant stories that didn't make the national news:

UK Government's benefit changes are a 'social atrocity'
Welfare reform hitting lone parents says Poverty Alliance [BBC News]
How should we measure fuel poverty?
Patients waiting up to two hours as ambulances queue outside hospitals

Monte Carlo Austerity - 16/01/13

The Monte Carlo nature of austerity is perfectly illustrated by the fact that 37% pf UK households have insufficient funds to cope with an emergency:
Hard times for more UK households, ONS report shows [BBC News] . Also the fact that the NHS is in deep trouble and that redundancies are coming thick and fast.

table showing multiple redundancies

Table showing publicly announced redundancies in the past few days
Thanks to Dr √Čoin Clarke for collating the numbers (he's not affiliated with this blog)

Yet more new reports of problems in the NHS found today:
Anger over queues of ambulances outside hospitals
Surge in A&E delays at "understaffed" Croydon University Hospital