Public opinion is moving only in one direction, jolted by each day’s worsening news. It is certainly not towards the ever-shrinking state offered by the two candidates in the Tory leadership race, as most voters realise that nothing but the state protects them from this growing omnicrisis.
Shocking news pours in at an accelerating pace. One day’s inbox can scarcely contain the avalanche of reports on failing public services and households stricken by debt.
As I write – ping! – here comes the Office for National Statistics reporting repossessions by county court bailiffs increased 1,611% between April and June. Expect many more now that Covid restrictions on bailiffs have been lifted. Meanwhile YouGov has found that 54% of people think it’s unlikely they will be able to afford their energy bills this winter.
Or should I choose Andy Cooke, the chief inspector of constabulary, who has pointed to the abject failure of the police? “Dire charge rates” show that a suspect is charged in only 4% of thefts and 3.7% of house burglaries. People will remember those cuts that reduced the number of police officers by 20,000.
The disgrace of private children’s homes making a fortune out of misery is again exposed by the BBC, with companies charging anything they want due to the acute shortage. Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, warns: “We have companies now in the market who really don’t have very much interest in childcare.”
Feeling hot? More than 60 public swimming pools closed in the last three years, finds another report today.
Ping again! Literally, as I wrote the above sentence, in comes the latest NHS waiting list figures, risen to an unthinkable 6.73m. While two-year waits went down, one-year waits rose. Squeeze one bit of this service and it bursts out elsewhere, after an austerity decade of falling per-patient funding – and no future workforce plan.
The Health Service Journal and Newsnight this week revealed leaked figures showing that published statistics undercount the true number of cancer patients waiting for treatment. The number waiting beyond 104 days, the crucial three months after which they risk “potential harm”, has doubled to more than 10,000. Don’t mention ambulances. Or that even the inadequate NHS pay package is underfunded, so that the NHS will need to cut another £2bn to pay for it.
What of levelling up? Ipsos today published its latest research on attitudes and finds – no surprise – deep discontent and low expectations that the government will make a difference.
If you worry most about the poorest, consider the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s warning this week to the candidates to be prime minister that the money proposed so far doesn’t even cover half the needs of the lowest-income families to avoid destitution. So far, we have only Truss’s revolting sneers about “handouts”.
Apologies for this long list, but that’s just a random day’s inflow of omnicrisis news. Among all these signs of a country not coping, there are things that every voter of every political hue, age, income and region will find profoundly alarming. And yet none of it is reflected in the empty bickering between the candidates, which focus groups show to be wildly out of touch with people’s concerns.
But Labour too will have to confront with honesty this most dismal reality, now entirely dodged by both Truss and Sunak. Colossal cuts await public services – even defence – on both Tory trajectories according to Ben Zaranko of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. His close analysis warns us to expect a £44bn cut in public services. He ends his report with this sober message:
“An unfortunate series of global shocks have made us poorer … Dividing that economic pain between households, businesses and public services is the unavoidable and unpalatable task facing the next government. Choosing to accept a reduced range and quality of public services is one possible response to becoming a poorer nation. But if the next prime minister does choose to cut rates of corporation tax, national insurance or income tax, and chooses to leave public services worse off heading into a difficult winter, they should be honest and transparent about the choice they have made.”
Those in the disintegrating Tory party deny the crises engulfing them because so much of Britain’s unpreparedness for recession is of their own making. But you can feel the tectonic plates shifting under their feet. The more often they call for a smaller state, the more the public mood will turn away from them.
• Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist