The size of the recently-announced spending cuts by the UK government is just flabbergasting. The Guardian’s summary lists all manner of huge cuts – not least, that the public sector workforce is expected to shrink by 490,000 over the next five years. That would be roughly the equivalent of 160,000 job cuts in Australia.
While the national health service has been spared real cutbacks (though below-trend funding growth is effectively a cut in this area) large parts of the welfare state have been cut.
The government, of course, is presenting the cuts as emergency measures to stabilize the budget, but as Paul Krugman notes, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slash the size of government, particularly the bits that redistribute money to the poor.
Given the extent to which UK and Australian politics cross-fertilizes, it might be worth recalling that not-so-long-ago election campaign rhetoric about “this reckless spending has got to stop” and the plans for a mini-budget had the Coalition won.
It’s unlikely that the Coalition would have attempted anything on quite the scale that their British counterparts have, even with an outright House majority. But, without doubt, they would have tried their level best to use the excuse of curbing Labor’s “reckless spending” to hack into all manner of transfer payments and other expenditure they don’t like.
And if and when the political opportunity arises in the future, it’s exactly what they will do.