The most recent budget outlined £34.8 billion in cuts to government expenditure, including large tax credit cuts (£6 billion), ongoing benefit freezes (£4 billion) and reductions in spending on unprotected government departments by one third in real terms by 2020.
Faced with the prospect of continued cuts to essential public services, organisations, activist groups and the public are asking how we can respond to consequent rises in poverty, especially for families with children. Housing evictions, as people are unable to pay rent, and problems ofhousehold debt are also set to rise.
Campaigners, social movements, local authorities, and businesses believe that we can continue to challenge austerity during this parliament in the following five ways:
Direct action can make hidden problems visible. Focus E15 is a group of 29 single mothers who were all served eviction notices from their homes on the same day. They formed a solidarity campaign and occupied a nearby East London estate where 350 council homes lie empty.
Sarah Day Focus E15 activist and campaigner found that the occupation and protests built a supportive community where hidden problems, like housing, and personal struggles could be discussed openly. The campaign succeeded in getting the council to provide more homes to local families on empty sites, and generated national interest in the housing crisis and its causes.
People want an alternative vision for the future and how it can be achieved - it is not enough to argue against austerity without also presenting an alternative.
Rachael Orr from Oxfam believes the charity sector needs to articulate a more holistic vision for the future; including principles like renewed democratic engagement and participation, a stronger role for preventative public services, and a new generation of cooperative businesses which share the fruits of our labour more fairly.
Symbols can be an effective tool for communicating messages and shared goals, even among disparate groups. John Tizard, an advisor to local government in the UK, challenges local authorities and other local organisations to used shared symbols as they struggle against a range of different cuts. ‘Wasted potential’ is currently a common theme among protesters against cuts to mental health, child and youth services, housing and the independent living fund for disabled people – but it lacks a symbol.
Groups, charities, and local authorities need to tackle the problems caused by cuts together – these issues affect a cross section of society and need collaboration. Local authorities are already proactively working with campaigners to generate public debate on issues like the Living Wage and many seek to do this more.
David Warner from London Funders outlines how investors and other funders are working to create spaces for different organisations to work together and develop a common agenda –both locally and nationally.
Groups must identify common goals and pursue strategic wins that have the potential to alter the climate of opinion, and open up the potential for further policy changes.
The Living Wage campaign demonstrates a strategic challenge to falling wages and declining living standards. The campaign built awareness of working poverty while challenging negative public attitudes towards the lowest paid. It won pay increases amounting to £62 million for around 35,000 workers including cleaners, carers and shop assistants.
Recent focus on a “national living wage” places a new onus on us to advocate policies that are necessary to protect living standards. Securing genuinely affordable housing, providing support for the costs of raising children, as well as ensuring tax credit cuts are taken into account in any Living Wage calculation worthy of the name, are just some of the issues that cannot now be ignored.
Given the range of creative responses to austerity we’ve witnessed over the last five years, there is great potential for renewed efforts in the years that lie ahead. It’s exciting to see different people and organisations – local authorities, activists, charities, academics, social enterprises and more – willing to form alliances and agree on the shared strategies that are essential to make it happen.