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Dismembered:How the attack on the state harms us all by Polly Toynbee, David Walker

Dismembered:How the attack on the state harms us all
by Polly Toynbee, David Walker

It’s not too late; cuts and dislocation have not yet inflicted permanent damage. We can say that because the ‘public thing’ is in large measure the people who work for it and for us and their spirit has not been extinguished:

The UK state has been pulled apart, partially rebuilt, then deconstructed time and again during the past 30 years.

In the Thatcher and Major era, the Tories sold the family silver and privatised the state’s capacity to contribute directly to the economy in energy and the utilities, transport and communications.

They created ramshackle executive agencies as part of a programme to bring business into the heart of government.

From 2010, the cuts were accompanied by tinkering; austerity with administrative anarchy.

In the Cameron coalition and afterwards, Tory ministers let rip. Civil servants were ‘enemies of enterprise’, echoing dark Thatcherite invocations of the ‘enemy within’.

We need to push back this relentless denigration of government.

Successive reports by parliamentary committees show governmental incompetence related to inadequate resources and refusal to look ahead, and all of them are bound up with a philosophy that despises planning, activism and the mobilisation of collective resources.

The way forward isn’t ‘reform’ as preached by those who want to further weaken government by bringing in yet more consultants and private firms.

After 40 years of ideological assault, the state is in trouble.

Between 2010 and 2015 there was a 17 per cent rise in the number of children having to be looked after by statutory authorities in England. Old people die at home alone.

As charities buckle, there is no substitute for public provision.

In recent decades we have been more driven by ideologies than our neighbours in Europe.

Powerful theories have been propagated and imposed by ideas merchants and thinktankers in the pay of American business interests.

Why can’t government services be like Marks and Spencer, asked Margaret Thatcher.

The answer then and now is that the state is not selling knickers or sandwiches.

In commerce, all that matters is the bottom line; public services, on the other hand, have hosts of difficult, divergent objectives.

The public sector operates within a mutual social contract that relies on a wider conception of who ‘we’ are, beyond ‘me, me’.

Competitive free markets are figments of the imagination of ideologues and academics.

Only government keeps capitalism on the straight and narrow and prevents it from eating itself.

The Labour years were good for public services, both for staff and for those benefiting from them.

Labour increased the government workforce by 14 per cent, from 4.8 million to 5.4 million: more doctors, nurses, teaching and healthcare assistants; civil service numbers went up 2 per cent.

Labour was inheriting 18 years of public neglect: some schools still had outside toilets, some hospitals still used wartime Nissen huts.

Blair–Brown missed a great opportunity to win acceptance of the higher taxation those services relied on.

Labour allowed their successors to use the financial crisis as an excuse to uproot and roll back much of what they had achieved.

In 2010, Osborne jammed on the brakes and ever since we have been living through ‘the most prolonged period of spending restraint since the Second World War’.

Conservatives saw ‘fiscal consolidation as cover for an ideologically driven “small state” agenda’.

The state and public services have been under ideological siege for decades. Long before the Cameron coalition began the disastrous dissection of the NHS.

What constitutes ‘the state’? The list of components is loose.

Perhaps that’s why ‘the state’ won’t mean much to many people. For the Treasury it’s a set of allocations to departments – defence, intelligence, the Home Office, Scotland, justice, HMRC, arm’s-length bodies and so on.

For many, the state is the NHS. Its 2015–16 budget of £116.4bn paid for nearly 23 million A&E attendances.

Room on the canvas has to be found for local authorities, for they too are part of the sate.

It provides bin-emptying, courts, road surfaces, training, search-and-rescue helicopters, healthcare and park keepers.

The state is ubiquitous, though not always recognised.

The state comprises land, buildings, plant, ports and transport.

Councils in England own around £170bn worth of housing, land and buildings. Many of them are irreplaceable markers of place and identity.

Our sense of ourselves as a defined community existing in time depends on these state institutions.

Britain’s 27,000 public parks ‘provide places for people to play and to reconnect with nature and the seasons, as well as with each other’.

But with the number of park staff cut, park managers fear for the future

Without the state we are going to get sicker quicker. Another way to get ill is to eat food in dodgy restaurants when they are not inspected sufficiently by environmental health officers.

Huntingdonshire District Council has lost a third of its environmental health officers in the past 5 years.

Pollution comes from every direction, fumes and smoke and noise … from neighbours, dogs and industry. Officers no longer follow up most complaints.

Since 2010, the downwards trend in injury and ill health has come to a halt.

Inspection visits to factories and workplaces have decreased.

Police service cuts have been deep: 17,000 or 12 per cent fewer police officers in 2015 compared with 2010.

As the rest of the public services shrink, the police spend more of their time picking up the pieces in safety nets full of gaping holes.

Dealing with mental health problems overwhelms their daily work, accounting for 60 per cent of all those they take into custody.

Using the police is an extravagant way to plug the gaps left by inadequate mental health, social work and youth services.

They stand in the front line, between us and anarchy.

Push the state back and no one tries to hold the ring and sort out the destructive dysfunctions of commercial competition.

With the end of the Post Office and Royal Mail the state retreats.

The public probably does not realise search and rescue is no longer provided by the state – the Cameron government kept the transfer quiet.

For nearly 30 years, the public sector has been in the throes of dismemberment.

Between 1980 and 2015, 2.8 million publicly owned dwellings were sold off under the ‘right to buy’.

The Tory refusal to reinvest the proceeds or to allow councils to replace lost stock helps explain today’s housing crisis.

Four out of ten Right to Buy properties have been transferred back to private landlords.

British people never signed up to a process that has degraded our national life.

Tony Blair.. accelerated the fracturing of the NHS, the ultimate symbol of state-guaranteed solidarity.

Thatcherites rightly viewed the NHS as the state in action, delivering a kind of socialism.

Thatcher determined to make the NHS into a market.

That period..saw the strong commitment of the Tory core to subvert the ‘Soviet’ NHS from within.

Since 2010, the NHS has suffered its toughest financial squeeze since it was founded, with budgets simply not matching growing costs.

It Since 2010, the NHS has suffered its toughest financial squeeze since it was founded, with budgets simply not matching growing costs with swathes of additional bureaucracy.

Talking about the latter-day NHS, we are aware of just how baffling the structure is, and how little known to the public.

The NHS implosion has been so catastrophic that even with the Tories in power, efforts are being made to bind fragments together.

Meanwhile the people on whom healthcare depends – the cleaners, managers, clinicians and therapists – are stupefied.


The story of English schools runs parallel to health. The Thatcherites were tempted to abandon public provision altogether, to follow free market dogma.

Under Cameron, it was decreed that all schools, everywhere, would be academised, whatever the wishes of parents and governors.

Under Theresa May a bid to revivify selective secondary schools, a prime consequence of which is inevitably the channelling of the majority into second-class education.


The recession stalled growth in incomes, which have struggled to return to pre-crash levels.

Then followed the cuts, capricious and precipitate.

Tory leadership could have adjusted taxes and spending fairly. Instead, lacking knowledge and modesty, the Cameron government struck out for grandiose schemes such as Universal Credit and HS2, while draining core services.

Tory ministers appoint business pals, party donors and ideological fellow travellers to boards, commissions and high places, undermining functions and alienating civil servants.

The austerity decreed by George Osborne in 2010 cut spending savagely.

If Osborne had meant it when he said we’re all in it together he would have spread austerity fairly and proportionately.

They cut according to what they could get away with, not what would cause least pain.

It was the families on benefits, children, disabled people and old people at home lacking care who suffered. Ministers themselves have been surprised by how far they could go without provoking rebellion.

Ministers cut whatever might make least noise and failed to rein in extravagant ‘reform’ projects.

Local government spending per person in England fell by 23 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Full-time headcount for councils dropped by 350,000 employees.

Real terms spending cuts have been close to zero in Surrey and Hants, but 45 per cent in Salford.

In Manchester, spending on adult social care is being cut by £27m between 2016 and 2019.

Manchester had to cut its workforce by a huge 40 per cent.

Contrary to claims about ‘Big Society’, volunteers won’t pick up those pieces. Grants to voluntary bodies have also been cut by two thirds.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance valued outstanding road repairs in England at £12bn and stated it would take 14 years to fill all potholes.

Some 600 youth centres have been shut since 2010 and 139,000 places on schemes for young people have gone.

There is a link between youth work and reducing mental illness and crime.

One in five babies in England has not been seen by health visitors by the time the infant reaches 15 months.

Only 2,600 school nurses look after 8.4 million school-age children in England.

Staffing is a matter of great concern in jails.

The budget has been cut but no effort made to reduce inmate numbers.

Alongside the significant rise in prison suicides, the cuts have resulted in an epidemic of drug misuse.

Magistrates’ courts have shut, affecting the speed and fairness with which cases are handled.

Increased fees have choked off applications to industrial tribunals. Claims have fallen by nearly 70 per cent, which may have been the intention.

Road traffic deaths in 2015 were 6 per cent up on 2010.

Cuts also make an already bad situation worse. The result is widespread hardship and downright waste of human potential.

Universities are currently fighting against proposals carried over from Cameron to May to allow more private sector universities to set up.

Universities have aped the private sector in worsening conditions for many of their staff.

More that half of staff are employed on temporary or non-permanent short-term contracts.

Vce chancellors’ average salaries have risen 14 per cent during austerity years and some are now paid hugely inflated sums.

The bonanza comes from the £9,000-plus now paid by all students in yearly tuition fees. Their aggregate debt will reach £100bn in 2018.

The state has been edged out, resulting in young people burdening themselves to pay interest on the glitzy buildings in which they were once taught.

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Replies to This Discussion

 This ideology of the Tories and Blairites is called NeoLiberalism.The transfer of State assets ( our assets) to the private sector.This ensures we the people are enslaved, as captured rent paying serfs for our public utilities ,such as electricity,gas,water ,traqnsport ,telecoms, mail.


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