Wider Context Update – Summer 2014

I covered some of the contemporary issues in this age of austerity here and here last year. This summer there have been a number of developments in the general political context – many of which relate directly to the current economic situation.

Scotland are about to vote on independence and the ‘Better Together’ campaign has run a negative campaign that some feel may have been counter productive. Assuming Scotland couldn’t cope with being independent, patronising women and assuming all ‘working class’ people are interested in is getting more take-outs has not gone down well in some quarters. Their campaign has identified the values of neo-liberalism perfectly as the discourse has been focused on fear for the family, self interest and money. It’s possible that independence may mean more to some people than that – the Westminster led ‘better together’ campaign seems to be unaware that this could be a vote led by a desire for democracy and political representation that serves the people of Scotland and shared community interests.

Figures have shown that the economy is now back in (very small) growth. Whilst some support the government and claim this  growth is down to good economic management, others argue that the national debt wasn’t ever the issue politicians claimed and that the cuts are ideological and impact most on the poor in society.  Some studies show that recent growth in the economy is largely growth for the rich and the wealth is becoming more centralised in London and the South East. Nationally, unemployment remains high – 80% of new jobs are created in LondonSome argue that a housing bubble is supporting the new growth – the same thing that caused the 2008 crash. Other countries such as the US, Iceland and Scandinavian countries have taken a different approach where there have been cuts but government spending has also been used to stimulate the economy.

The austerity politics of the UK has led to several economic based issues leading the news agenda. Issues around inequality of income and opportunity are often in the news in the broadsheets whilst tabloids tend to focus on ‘benefits culture’ and stories about the ‘undeserving’ poor.

The middle classes may feel that inequality issues are becoming more relevant to them as the cost of university education has gone up 300% in the past 4 years but average wages have gone down 4%. 7% of the population go to private school but ex-pupils from the leading public schools dominate positions of power in the establishment. Add to that the only ‘class’ that has seen its wealth increase since the crash is the ‘super rich’ – a tiny percentage that own a huge proportion of the world’s wealth. Most of this wealth is kept out of circulation as it is held in tax-havens. This is money that is out of circulation but will have come from profits made from investments, interest payments on debt, rent and business.

Technology is also impacting on the types of jobs that are available to people and goes some way to explaining why unemployment is a real issue that looks set to get worse. The self-serve check-out in Tescos puts an unskilled labourer out of work. The free culture in journalism and music and the rise of computers and robotics is threatening traditional middle class jobs in management and administration, the creative industries and the professions.

Britain still has a manufacturing industry – it just doesn’t employ as many people as it used to so less families are able to make a living that way. Ideologically though work is seen to be the only way to validate a person’s identity and value. Some argue that a new way of thinking needs to be encouraged to find a way to enable people to live despite the traditional idea of a 40 hour a week, full time job becoming less viable for the majority.

Low pay culture means that many people cannot currently afford to be independent – despite working full time. Low pay is supplemented by the government in the form of in-work benefits and so businesses can protect their profit margins by keeping wage bills down. Owen Jones (and others) have called this socialism for the rich as ‘benefits’ for businesses and landlords are protected whilst ‘benefits’ for individuals are being cut. Increased indebtedness creates a culture where people have to take what work they can and so workers have no power to negotiate better deals. Unions have been demonised in the press and are practically non-existent in the private sector. House prices are high, food and energy prices increasing (although luxury goods get cheaper in real terms) and all this acts to make people tied to their jobs regardless of how they are paid or treated. Indebtedness is having an effect on all age groups but particularly the young. Aspiration is still an important part of modern culture of course and the super-rich and celebrities are held up in some areas of the media as role models and all of this colours our culture:

  • Many countries have found that far-right political groups have risen in popularity – this includes the UK where UKIP could be seen controlling the news agenda in the run up to the Euro elections
  • ‘Immigrants’, ‘Benefits Culture’ and ‘Europe’ are used as scapegoats to place the blame for economic hardships with outsiders or those we see as ‘other’. The tabloid press in the UK often attacks people for being poor and reinforces the idea that individuals are largely to blame for their own poverty.
  • Some have argued that poverty and inequality are factors that influenced the summer’s racial tensions in Ferguson in the US.
  • Other commentators see a connection between the dominant ideologies and mental health.

And finally – Do you know about the TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Plan)? The plan has the potential to dramatically reduce the power of national governments and increase corporate power. The negotiations are currently underway but none of the tabloids are covering the story and you have to look hard for it in Broadsheets.

Here 38 Degrees explain why they are against the plan.

… and here is the other side of the argument from IBT Partners

The following links give some more information and interpretations:

Interesting though that, despite all of this, British people tend to have values that may not be reflected in Governmental/main party politics. Vote for Policies allows people to comment on their political views and the results are interesting as they do not seem to reflect mainstream politics. Could this, perhaps be down to the media’s representation of politics, parties and policies? UKIP received more TV coverage than The Green Party in the run up to the Euro election and finding a mainstream media outlet that offers any views outside conventional neo-liberalism is all but impossible.

As ever, read, analyse and make up your own mind.


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