They say the youth – and those in their early 30s – are deluded in their optimism. I figured that, after such seismic change in the way we travel, work and socialise, and after all the clapping for NHS workers, viral pictures of wild boars on Italian streets and goats in Welsh villages, we would be granted some truly revolutionary economic package on emerging from lockdown to reflect our new attitudes to life. Perhaps a universal basic income. A Green New Deal.
How wrong I was.
There was nothing in the summer economic update this week for the worse-off. Nothing for the domestic violence victims, despite a surge in the number of women being killed or abused during lockdown. Nothing for social care or frontline workers. Nothing for nursing homes, no bonus for NHS staff. Nothing for renters, thousands of whom face eviction. The hostile environment continues for migrant workers.
For all the big numbers from Rishi Sunak, it was much ado about nothing.
The government likes to claim our debt and deficit are high and both must come down if our economy is to function and provide the services we need. Yet we are currently experiencing zero or near-zero interest rates across the developed world. Borrowing might never be as cheap as it is now. And if we don’t borrow and invest that money in the people, sectors and businesses that need it most, the cycle of poverty will simply continue.
What Sunak has delivered is a one-size-fits-all approach. A £500 voucher to encourage spending! A £1,000 bonus to employers for every furloughed employee they take back! And Tories say they fear the “free hand-outs” of socialism.
Trickle-down economics is clearly also alive and well. The government believes that by cutting VAT and stamp duty for houses worth up to half a mil, that richer people will have more money to spend and that will benefit everyone else. We know that doesn’t work. The rich just get richer, and move as much cash as they can offshore.
And what about the Green New Deal? The “green” part of the package is worth £3bn – a drop in the ocean – and £2bn of that will be dished out by local authorities to retrofit homes and make them more energy efficient. It sounds like a lot of money, but that £2bn has to be divided by 343 local authorities. Sunak said this would remove a half megaton of carbon from the atmosphere, the equivalent of taking 270,000 cars off the roads. But there are almost 40 million cars on British roads, so excuse me for not jumping up and down with excitement.
I had imagined moving back to London and cycling my bike in the new cycle lanes and enjoying some kind of new, green urban utopia. Instead, the government opened car showrooms as soon as they possibly could. Talk about recklessness: thousands of people die in London alone every year from air pollution. Sometimes I walk down my local high street and want to bang my head against a wall as I spot an endless stream of vehicles. I get this funny aftertaste in my mouth as I gulp down the fumes; the noise drills a hole in my brain. I wonder, why do so many people not seem to care?
And in a few years’ time, long after Sunak has splashed the cash, built his career and moved on, austerity will be reintroduced. It never really went away. After all, what did you expect? They gave you a voucher to eat out between Monday and Wednesday, they opened the pubs, they killed off the oldies, they kept you in your job a couple months, and they invested in careers advisers and job coaches, because we all know that confidence is the main barrier to solving long-term unemployment.
After such pampering from the government, we have to be punished – if you want to enjoy those free public services and keep our economy afloat, they will tell us, we will have to rein back!
The overall lesson is a simple and depressing one. If you vote Tory, you get Tory. Their ethos – despite some hopeful newspaper op-eds – hasn’t changed between March and July. Nothing really will change, in fact, until we vote them out at the next election.