British austerity: For "Hardworking people"?

13 Dec 2013

‘Hardworking’ families and individuals have become the main focus of the Coalition’s efforts over this period of austerity. All hopes of prosperity and stability for those hardest hit by austerity measures have been pinned on their ability to work hard. However, as well as ignoring the grammatical space in ‘hard working,’ it appears that the poverty gap has also been overlooked by the British government, and its ability to drag even the most conscientious of people inside.

 

A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that over 50% of those considered to be living in poverty in the UK in fact hold down a job too. Individuals that have followed the tough advice of the government seem no better off for their efforts. This raises a number of issues surrounding domestic politics in Britain, but also more fundamentally calls into question the justifications for capitalism that are put in front of us in Western society.

As detailed in The Telegraph, the report shows that “Just over half of the 13 million people living below the poverty line, some 6.7 million, come from working families – an increase of 500,000 on last year.” 

This is a damaging statistic on its own, but as an 11% pay rise for MPs that conveniently remains outside of their control is to be implemented, the government mantra of ‘We’re All In This Together’ becomes somewhat further redundant.

As the 2015 election gets closer, it is quite easy to see how this statistic can be of great damage to the chances of re-election for the Conservative Party. The Autumn Statement was quick to remind the electorate that although there is light at the end of the austerity tunnel, the job is by no means done. Moreover, we are told that in order for the task to be completed, hard work alongside a vote for your local Tory MP will be the necessary course of action. 

However, despite the hard work of the electorate, some of those working hard remain in poverty, failed by a tough policy set that demanded their trust. Undertaking a gruelling routine of belt-tightening and increased pressure to work, reinforced by a foul stigma attached to those who request help from the state. The tough five years endured, only to find that this still does not bring prosperity. Further, if this resembles only the beginning of a climb upwards out of austerity, we can but imagine what awaits the most vulnerable in our society on the remainder of the journey. 

Although this will carry heavy implications in British politics at the next election, the implications for austerity messages that have been force fed to voters across Europe could be potentially more damaging. These suggestions will not be unique in calling into question the neoliberal political strategy of the last five years.

Capitalist economies across the globe depend on the exploitation of one group of people at some point in the process of production and profit-making. But this exploitation is justified by the idea that if you work hard enough, you can escape that exploitation and become successful. However, when those working hard and doing exactly as their elected representatives require in times of hardship are still left in poverty, then this message is undermined. The ‘American Dream,’ is rendered nothing more than an illusion. 

This illusion has of course long been expected and expressed. However, 2013 has now presented clear evidence that for those willing to work hard under measures of austerity, prosperity does not always await you on the other side. 

By Samuel Mercer

 

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