The UK has become a laughing stock, we need a general election now

'The UK needs a fresh start and that can’t be provided by the Conservative party hoisting another neoliberal prime minister on the country. We need a general election now.'

Liz Truss speaking in the House of Commons

Prem Sikka is an Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield, a Labour member of the House of Lords, and Contributing Editor at Left Foot Forward.

The prevailing political chaos has made the UK a laughing stock. In the absence of a general election, the country is looking at its third prime minister in three months and fifth Chancellor in four months. The Conservative rule since 2010 has left a bitter legacy of stagnation, poverty and death.

Ever since 2010, the Conservative government has surrounded itself with right-wing think-tanks and advisers. Dissenting voices were purged and very soon the self-referential echo-chamber produced crazy policies. These included Brexit. The UK had access to the biggest free-trade zone in the world and sat at the top-table to make European Union policies. This was sacrificed by the 2016 xenophobic Brexit referendum and the promised riches never materialised. The UK is the only G7 economy that is smaller now than before the Covid pandemic.

Shredding public services has been an obsession. The waiting list for hospital appointments in England has ballooned to record 7 million, compared to 2.5 million in 2010.  The Liz Truss government espoused trickle-down economics with the claim that if you make the rich richer, the poor will somehow become wealthy too. It announced £45bn tax cuts for the rich and corporations, funded by borrowing. The public debt is already around £2.5trn compared to less than one a trillion in 2010. The markets were spooked. Some £300bn was wiped off the value of bonds and securities. The Bank of England spent £65bn to prop-up the gilt market and prevent pension funds from crashing.

The Conservatives have been quite content to let profiteering rip. Energy companies, banks, supermarkets, water and railways have led the field. This fuelled the rate of inflation and the retail price index is currently increasing at the rate of 12.3% per annum. Just last month food prices increased by nearly 15%. Since October 2021, despite the recent government energy price guarantee, the average annual domestic energy bills have increased from £1,277 to £2,500, and expected to hit £4,300 in April 2023. The Bank of England expects the average take-home pay (after tax) in 2023 to be around £2,054 per month.

Successive governments have chosen to compete by building a service economy. Industry has been neglected. The manufacturing’s share of UK economic output (in terms of Gross Value Added) has declined from 27% to 9.7% in 2021. Many well-paid skilled and semi-skilled jobs disappeared.

There have been incessant attacks on workers. Zero-hour contracts fire and rehire on lower pay and the use of umbrella companies have become common practice. Public sector workers have faced real pay cuts each year. The government changed the law to enable striking workers to be replaced by agency workers. Workers’ share of the gross domestic product is now around 50%, compared to 65.1% in 1976.

Regressive tax policies further depleted the purchasing power of the masses. The poorest 10% of households pay 47.6% of their gross income in direct and indirect taxes, compared to 33.5% by the richest 10%. 

In 2022, the richest 250 people have a combined wealth of some £710bn, but it is squalor at the other end. Before the Covid pandemic, out of a population of around 68 million, some 14.5 million people, including 8.1 million working-age adults, 4.3 million children and 2.1 million pensioners, were living in poverty. By the end of 2022, another 1.3 million are expected to slide into poverty.

At 21% of average earnings, the UK state pension is the lowest in the industrialised world.  Malnutrition (or “undernutrition”) affects over 3 million people in the UK. One in ten people over the age of 65 are malnourished.

Some 800,000 children do not qualify for free school meals because their parents have annual income of more than £7,400. Some are stealing food to survive.

Some 6.7 million households are in fuel poverty and the numbers are expected rise to 11 million.

The state-sanctioned poverty has forced people to rely upon charity. In 2010, 25,000 Britons relied on food banks for survival, and that has ballooned to 2.5 million.

The callous government policies have brought premature death to thousands. A study published in the peer reviewed Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that the government imposed austerity during 2012-2019 caused over 334,000 deaths.

In 2016, government sponsored Exercise Cygnus concluded that the National Health Service (NHS) would struggle to cope with a flu epidemic. The government ignored the warnings and continued to underfund the NHS and reduced the number of beds per capita. To date, 208,000 people died from Covid.

In 2021, some 117,000 people died whilst waiting for a hospital appointment. Marie Curie charity reported that in 2019, 93,000 people died from poverty and every hour 10 people are dying from poverty.

No previous British government has killed so many of its own people, knowingly or unknowingly, in the name of defunct economic ideologies. The government refuses investigation of this democide.

The above is a brief glimpse of the consequences of 12 years of Conservative rule. The UK needs a fresh start and that can’t be provided by the Conservative party hoisting another neoliberal prime minister on the country. We need a general election now.

Picture credit: Youtube screengrab

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