The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation.

Since coming to power in 2010, the current coalition government in the UK has implemented drastic austerity policies across the public sector. During the Spring semester 2013, the local University and College Union (UCU) association at Nottingham University organised a series of talks on local anti-cuts initiatives. The purpose of this post is to bring together the various reports from these talks.
Photo by Dean Thorpe

As different as the various areas affected by cuts are, ranging from the National Health Service (NHS) to schools to the Bedroom Tax, several common features can be identified:

(1) austerity policies have nothing to do with cutting back national debt. Rather, they are intended to open up the public sector to private investment;
(2) downward pressure on terms and conditions of those working in the public sector is the general result;
(3) austerity policies are mainly directed against the weak and vulnerable in society;
(4) austerity policies are decided by those, who will not be negatively affected by them. Cuts in education and health have no implications for the rich, who are already accessing private education and health services; and
(5) many current policies had already been initiated by previous New Labour governments. Turning austerity around will, therefore, need to go beyond defeating the current government. It also requires an internal struggle for the direction of the Labour party.
Overall, austerity is a class project against working people’s gains since 1945!
The reports collected in this post highlight the dramatic implications of cuts, but they are also a testimony to the continuation of resistance and the possibility that austerity can be defeated.

Since April 2013, health service contracts have also been offered to private providers, able to cherry pick profitable parts of the NHS such as walk-in treatment centres. Opening up the NHS to private capital is clearly the purpose underlying this change in legislation. The related implications are two-fold: (1) while patients may receive similar levels of service from these privatised units during the initial years, this is highly likely to decline later on; (2) privatisation will lead to a two-tier labour market, where workers in private facilities will earn less and have less good pensions than in the NHS. Downward pressure on wages and working conditions across the sector is the inevitable result. Yet, resistance against privatisation continues. The main aim of the Broxtowe Save Our NHS campaign is regime change and, thus, the de-selection of the current local Conservative MP Anna Soubry.

Hands Off Our Schools!

After coming to power in 2010, the new government pushed in record time an education bill through Parliament, facilitating the transition of schools into academies. In order to incentivise this transition, funds are channelled from local education authority budgets to new academies. As a result, other schools suffer further cuts and essential local services for children with special needs are under threat. There is uncertainty over teachers’ terms and conditions in academies and in general the switch to academies may be the first step towards the privatisation of education more generally, considering the recent emphasis on so-called ‘free schools’. Resistance against the transition to academies continues, but in order to be successful it requires an alliance between parents of pupils at the school and the teachers.

Women are particularly negatively affected by current austerity policies. Considering that two-thirds of public sector employees are women, job cuts in the public sector will affect women disproportionately. Moreover, it is often women in our society, which have caring responsibilities. Cuts to benefits, as a result, also affect especially women. Finally, women are also more likely to suffer from cuts to public services, considering that they are more likely to be lone parents or to suffer from domestic abuse. Nevertheless, women are not defenceless victims. The Nottingham Women’s Conference on 21 September 2013 has the goal to raise consciousness and empower women to stand up for their rights.  

The bedroom tax is one of the clearest examples of how austerity policies are mainly directed against the poor and the weak. It affects people in social housing, who are deemed to have a spare bedroom and, therefore, are asked to move to smaller accommodation or have their housing benefits cut. The tax does not only endanger these people’s livelihood, it also puts them under enormous psychological stress, as they live in constant fear of receiving a letter of eviction. Considering that the eviction of tenants is more expensive than the money saved through the tax, it may well be that social housing as such is the main target of the tax.

It is the proliferation of food banks, which most dramatically illustrates the devastating social implications of austerity. Overall, there are now 15 food banks in the wider area of Nottingham, where people can turn to in order to receive emergency food supplies. The main reason for why people need to access food banks is the changes to the welfare system. When people have their benefits withdrawn or cut by job centres, they often have no alternative than to go to a food bank to feed themselves and their families. The proliferation of food banks makes clear that austerity must be resisted and defeated.

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

18 August 2013