Received opinion, ‘facts’ and the public sector

This morning, the media is falling over itself to present the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) latest pronouncements on the economy as received fact. The three main parties are not being straight with us, according to the IFS. The key issue of the general election will be the economy and how the country weathers recessionary pressures, claims the think tank. So far, so blindingly obvious.

What’s less obvious though, is what the solution to our current economic woes are. “Cut, cut and then cut again” says the IFS. Meaning cut, cut the public sector. The sooner and the harder the better. This mantra of chopping public services is repeated over and over by the media as if such an approach is the only way out of the current economic malaise. It has become the received wisdom. The ‘established’ fact.

Slashing the public sector will affect real people, real jobs and the services we all depend on.

But just hang on a minute here. It wasn’t too long ago that the established wisdom was that the last thing you needed to do was saddle the banking system with more regulation. Banks are complicated institutions. Politicians shouldn’t be intervening and tying up these wealth creators with red tape. Left to regulate themselves, all will turn out for the best, we were told by the ‘experts’, who included many of the IFS’s friends. And look where that got us.

I’m no economist or wannabe think tank self-publicist, but what I am is terrified by all this talk of slashing the public sector in a country that still depends on it to a very large extent in many areas as a significant driver of the economy. In the North West, where I live and work, as a result of the new fiscal constraints in which local government is working, it’s estimated that employment won’t get back to 2008 levels until 2018. Further massive public sector cuts now would take a still fragile recovery and throttle it. People would lose their jobs, more businesses will fail, life enhancing initiatives will be shelved, families could be turfed out of homes they can no longer afford, futures will be ruined.

These are facts, not opinion. I should know. I’ve seen the effects of ideologically driven cuts before. At 46, I’m old enough to remember the 80s and 90s where cuts in the public sector had a knock-on effect on the entire economy, including in the private sector. Some communities in the UK are still suffering from the legacy of that era. Do we really want to go through all that again?

Remember that when it’s just you, a piece of paper and a pencil on 6 May.


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