AUSTERITY and inequality are two sides of the one coin. Where there is division there is no inclusiveness. Where there is fear there is no hope. Where there is failure there is no success.
Our aim, on July 4 in Belfast, is to address these issues, and more, and to give the people of Northern Ireland their opportunity to voice together, the very real issues and concerns we all have and to create a new way forward for all our people, an opportunity to rebuild our lives and renew our hopes & dreams for a better future. One people, one voice. And no more austerity.
In a nutshell, austerity is an economic condition created by a government to reduce the amount of money it spends. Austerity is defined as the condition of living without unnecessary things, goods, or services, and without comfort, and it has a far reaching and widespread effect on our every day lives.
It means that although the richest in our society, with an accumulation of private wealth is little affected and often have a lot to gain, ordinary society, especially the working class, suffer cuts to jobs, wages, benefits, work longer hours in worse conditions, face restricted or in some cases, absent services, take retirement later, pay higher education fees, increased taxes on goods and services, and face higher levels of unemployment, stress and ill health.
When you look around Northern Ireland and talk to people from all walks of life, it is abundantly clear that they all share the same concerns about the economy and unfolding austerity policies, many of which have been implemented here over the last six years.
Cuts to public services, the NHS, education, environmental projects, services, charities, alongside lack of decent affordable housing, job losses, food & fuel poverty, social welfare changes, and lack of well paid, full time jobs have all caused hardship, stress and fear. Sometimes, it has cost lives and livelihoods as well. The sad thing is, most of it is totally unnecessary.
We read almost daily, about the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, and it is true. Austerity is not harming the large multinational companies which exploit the workforce through minimum wage, low contract hours jobs, and ‘sweatshop’ conditions. It is not harming the wealthy elite with privileged backgrounds, personal fortunes and off shore tax havens. Nor is it harming those who profit from war, lavish lifestyles and highly paid celebrity status. But it is harming people. Ordinary people like us.
Those who have imposed austerity on us do not live in our communities, they do not see the detrimental effects of their policies on our lives. They do not see all the small businesses that have closed down, the empty shops, the struggling families, the desperate students, and the weary homeless. They do not see the great talent we have here, the entrepreneurial skills of a lost generation of youth waiting only for a chance to climb out from under a mountain of debt and despair. They do not see the weak and the vulnerable, the old and the disabled, the harsh realities we the people face on a daily basis.
They do not see any of these things because they are not looking at them, or looking at us as anything more than a broken workforce to be whipped into shape, without guilt or conscience, empathy or vision, and they ask us to tighten our belts while they slacken theirs. They ask us to give more while they give less.
They tell us there is no other way they can rebuild the economy while blatantly ignoring the billions of pounds lost through the tax avoidance of the same people who profit by our loss, of rights, conditions, low salaries and our dignity. They are driven by the vast profits of a capitalist enterprise and we the people are driven by fear.
The apparent and detrimental effect of Austerity is highlighted by several recent reports including: the escalation in suicide rates across the UK (now at it’s highest since 1981), the rise of mental health problems directly related to cuts in the mental health budget as well as severe lack of funding to mental health charities and organisations.
The dramatic rise of food banks, families in poverty, and homelessness as reported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Oxfam, and Trussell Trust. This week, we saw the release of the UN committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stated not only its concerns but also that Austerity in the UK was a breach of International Human Rights.
We need to surmount that breach and take back our rights if we are to combat inequality in our society.
By Maggie McD, Awaken NI
Awaken NI’s anti-austerity protest and rally will take place at Belfast City Hall from 2pm on Monday July 4. There will be a number of speakers as well as entertainers taking to the mic. For more information log onto www.facebook.com/events/802782526525461.