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By Jason Michael
Our political choices have real social and economic consequences. When we support parties responsible for inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on innocent people we share in their guilt. Think before you vote.
As the many government cost-saving social and economic policies – known collectively as ‘austerity’ – hit and as the effects of this austerity deepen across society there are predictable consequences. Cuts in the healthcare budget result in a decreased quality of care, a lowering of the level of general health, and an increase in the number of unnecessary deaths. Reductions in the social welfare bill make it increasingly more difficult for people relying on state welfare to make ends meet, making it more difficult to cover the basic costs of housing and food – driving up homelessness and food poverty. Sanctions on social welfare – primarily designed as a cost-saving strategy – have a devastating impact on people’s lives, worsening the effects of other cuts to the social safety net.
None of this is rocket science. It is a simple case of cause and effect. Cuts hurt people. Worse than this, the government’s austerity programme is killing people. While it is near impossible to examine every death across the UK in order to assess the true scale of this problem, one indicator is particularly useful – the suicide rate. Not every death by suicide is related to the economy and austerity, but the statistics – published annually by the Samaritans – do show a direct and positive correlation between austerity cuts and incidences of suicide; as the government cuts and sanctions, the rate of suicide per every 100,000 people rises.
From 2010 the overall suicide rate across the UK has risen, year on year, until the present – with rates higher in areas hit the hardest by austerity. The exception to this trend is in Scotland, where, since 2007, this rate has been falling steadily; thanks largely to the SNP government’s mitigation of Westminster’s austerity measures. Between 2012 and 2013 the suicide rate in Wales rose by a staggering 23 per cent, with the rate now standing at 21.0 per 100,000 for men and 5.5 for women. In England – as a whole – that rate is 15.4 for men and 5.0 for women, but in towns like Preston and Blackpool in the north those rates are doubled. In Northern Ireland, between 2015 and 2016, the suicide rate rose by 17.5 per cent – making it the highest in the UK at 26.9 for men and 7.7 for women.
Always, the simple facts are that the rate of suicide is lower in affluent areas and higher in poorer areas. Overall the rate rises as austerity deepens. In 1934, when the German Confessing Church spoke out against the tyranny of the National Socialists, the theologian Karl Barth spelt out that we are all responsible for the consequences of the political choices we make. Here in the United Kingdom austerity stands or falls on the support of the Conservative Party, the party responsible for this truly horrific austerity regime. Votes for the Tory party empower the British government to continue with and intensify this offensive programme, and therefore those who lend their vote to this party are complicit in the misery it is inflicting on hundreds of thousands of people.
There is no kinder way to put this. Stating this fact is not about recrimination; in a liberal democratic society people will always vote for the party with the policies that best serve their individual priorities. We all understand this, but our democratic choices – especially in this case – have ethical and moral implications. Austerity in all its forms, resulting as it does in such harm to innocent people, is objectively, morally wrong. For as long as this Conservative government in Westminster pursues these policies it is quite simply immoral to support it at the ballot. Each of us has a choice to make and, no matter how we have voted in the past, we have to make a choice directed by our conscience. There is nothing good or conscionable about supporting austerity.
Mark Blyth on Austerity