This is what austerity looks like

Austerity is another word for budget cuts like the ones that right-wing US governors from Wisconsin to Texas are proposing. Opponents of state budget cuts have warned us about the damage that the proposed cuts could do. The United Kingdom has already adopted austerity measures that will cut 245 billion pounds out of national and local government budgets over the next five years. Since some of the cuts have already been implemented, we can start to see the damage that they are doing. So far, the people hit hardest by Britain’s austerity measures are youth and women.

One of first effects of Britain’s austerity program has been the elimination of 132,000 public sector jobs, 45,000, or 34 percent, of those jobs were lost in the last three months of 2010. Since women make up a majority of the public workforce, they have been hit especially hard by the cuts. In February, the number of women claiming unemployment benefits increased by 12 percent over the same time last year.

“Slashing the public sector workforce hits women hardest,” said Anna Bird, Acting Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, a women’s equality organization. “Sixty-five percent of public sector workers are women, and they are concentrated in the low-paid, low-grade, and insecure work that are most under attack.”

Women face a triple whammy from the austerity measures. They are not only losing a disproportionate share of jobs; they also are losing important benefits and services . For example, 65 percent of funding for day care services is being cut, which will mean “that it’s going to be hard to find full-time (day care) for mothers who work full-time,” said Penny Liechti.

Public sector jobs and social benefits and services have helped narrow the gender gap in the UK, but the cuts could undo much of what has been accomplished over the last 30 years. “The cuts represent a patriarchal offensive against women,” said professor Victoria Click.

And Britain’s austerity measures have, according to Dave Printis, general secretary of Unison, a public service union, created “an abandoned generation.” When the government on Wednesday announced that UK’s unemployment rate rose to 8 percent, the highest in 17 years, it also announced that youth unemployment hit 20.6 percent. That means that in the UK, one in five people between the ages of 16 and 24 looking for work can’t find any.

Austerity measures are one of the main reasons that youth unemployment is so high. The austerity measures have caused most local governments to initiate a hiring freeze, closing one of the gateways to the workforce for young people. 

The cuts have also resulted in fewer services for people looking for work. For example, local government employment services like Connexions in Birmingham have already begun to cut its workforce, which means that people are waiting longer for employment services.

With these two paths to employment restricted, some young people might look to higher education to help them prepare for a career. But the austerity measures have caused public university tuition rates to increase sharply, which makes it much harder for working class students to go to college. 

Those who plan to skip college and enter the workforce through apprenticeship programs will find it harder to enter the workforce this way. “All the talk about modern apprenticeships is just that, talk.” said Leonard Haye, a union organizer with GMB, another public service union. “Even when the economy was buoyant it was a challenge; now it is almost impossible.”


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