Austerity cuts

Feeling the squeeze: Workers' living standards in the economic crisis

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Working class living standards are being seriously hit as the economic crisis worsens. As inflation rises and wage repression continues, households' real disposable income is falling. Laura Cooke and Kevin Devine unpick the latest statistics that show the scale of the squeeze

For the first time in over 30 years the real disposable income of British households is falling, and the degree to which this is happening is increasing as inflation continues to climb. The Office for National Statistics reports that real incomes fell by 0.8 percent in 2010, which is the highest fall in real disposable incomes since 1977. In the first quarter of 2011 it reports incomes fell by 2.7 percent, over three times this amount, confirming that money pressures are growing.

The geography of poverty

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The recent riots and looting have provoked a fresh wave of demonisation of so-called "feral" young people in Britain's cities. Carl Lee and Danny Dorling examine the reality of life in a society which surrounds those in poverty with commodities they can never afford to own

On 4 March 1941 the London Times reported on an "epidemic" of looting in the aftermath of bombing raids over the city. In that same year 4,584 looting cases were processed by London courts alone.

Seventy years later, following the riots in England this August, the calls to mend what David Cameron has termed our "broken society" - usually couched in terms of better parenting and more discipline in schools - have a hollow ring when held up against the historical record.

Why not Sheffield?

Austerity USA

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Last month Obama and the Republicans agreed a last minute compromise on the US national debt ceiling.

To explain why this happened, it's useful to begin by looking the peculiarities of the US political system. The US does not have a parliamentary system where the parliament elects the government. Instead, a president is elected every four years. There are elections every two years for Congress - the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The spectacle of culture cuts

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In the flurry of cuts, it's sometimes hard to notice the small detail, to catch the minute print, and understand the nuances of who is losing money and why. However, certain patterns are there to be found. Conformity is rewarded; collectivity and universality are punished. So it is in the welfare state, so in the arts.

If you look at the list of 200 Arts Council-sponsored organisations who have had their entire funding withdrawn, you'll notice one very conspicuous absence. Those slashed range from long-established theatres like the Newcastle Theatre Royal to community music groups like Sound It Out in the West Midlands, from film producers like onedotzero to publishers like Proboscis - but you won't find one example of a very particular kind of arts organisation, that is, of the Blairite grand projects of the 1997-2010 period.

The welfare stakes

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The Tories want to do a lot more than just slash public spending. They want to fundamentally recast the nature of the relationship between the state and society. Charlie Kimber looks at what's at stake in the government's plans for the welfare state

The slogan "Stop the cuts" is absolutely natural and correct for the demonstrators on 26 March and after, as it was for those who besieged town halls last month. The battle against the £81 billion of public spending cuts is the central issue for all of us.

Tories' trials

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Only twice since the Second World War has any government succeeded in cutting public spending over two consecutive years.

Yet George Osborne's plans involve wielding the axe to public sector spending for four years in a row, while dramatically accelerating the neoliberal transformation of the welfare state, local government, education and, perhaps most explosively, the NHS.

Defending Libraries

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Libraries have become one of the expendable, junkable parts of modern capitalism.

The main alibi in circulation supporting the closure of libraries is that they've become less popular. The reason for that, the argument goes, is that a combination of (a) the production of cheap books, (b) multi-genre TV and (c) the arrival on the internet of virtually everything that a book can offer has supplanted the need for libraries.

We need to be sharp about how we defend the library service and indeed be clear about what we are defending and what we would change about it.

The cost of living through austerity

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The economic recovery remains elusive, but the cost of living remains high and looks set to go even higher in 2011.

Rising energy bills, higher rail fares, increases in rents (if many councils get their way) and the hike in VAT to 20 percent this month are all likely to combine and force the various measures of inflation upwards this year.

Local cuts are a council of despair

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One way in which the coalition government is attempting to deflect anger about its austerity measures is to cut funding to local councils - meaning that the councils themselves are seen as inflicting the pain when libraries, youth centres and sports facilities close.

What makes this a win-win situation for the Tories is that Labour councils with largely working class residents will suffer the most. The poorer the population in a local council area, the less income it will accrue from council tax and other local income, leading the councils to depend on central government subsidy to provide basic services. Yet these are the very councils which have the greatest need for services.

Same old ideology

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Economist Graham Turner gives his assessment of the austerity plans and their wider significance.

George Osborne's spending review does not pull any punches. Page 13 of the document outlines the "scale of the fiscal challenge". He argues that "the spending plans in the 2007 comprehensive spending review were based on unsustainable assumptions about the public finances". It goes on to say that government attempts to tackle the "structural deficit did not begin to take effect until 2010, by which time the impact of the financial crisis had made an unaffordable situation unsustainable".

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