Column: Austerity is not over until we care for the needy

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A century ago, the First World War came to an end. The nation rejoiced, the streets were full, but life had changed forever.

Men did not return and many who did were altered, scarred physically and emotionally.

Promises were made – ‘Homes fit for heroes’ – but never fulfilled and our nation was weakened.

The Second World War came to an end in 1945.

The nation rejoiced but life was changed forever.

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Our industries had been annihilated, our farms neglected, our homes destroyed.

Even in the mid-1950s, as a young boy, I would wander through the streets of London and explore the bomb sites. There were so many that I thought they were there forever.

Buddleia grew in the cracks and crevices - buddleia always grows in ruins.

The sides of buildings were opened up like dolls’ houses; wallpaper hanging from the walls and torn curtains flapping in the breeze.

Our country had become poor in so many ways.

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And now we hear that austerity is coming to an end after eight years.

We have been praised for our hard work; a statement which I will challenge later.

Our public services have been decimated... our schools, our hospitals, our care in the community, our care for the most vulnerable, our police, our prison services.

They have become leaner, less accessible, less generous and ‘more efficient’ in a way that is somehow less efficient.

But now ‘austerity is coming to an end’.

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It will only come to an end – and it will take years – when social care is restored, when health, policing and education have the funds to care for us, to keep us safe and teach our children.

It is a measure of society when we care for the most vulnerable; austerity will come to an end when we do.

Eight long years and who has worked hard?

Strange words those, ‘working hard’.

Those in public service have had to work extremely hard, but working hard means ‘paid for’ so it is palpably obvious that it is the poorest in our community who have paid the most.

They are poorer now than eight years ago, work is less secure, benefits (often for those in work) reduced and access to help seriously reduced.

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If austerity was worthwhile – and I am not sure that it was – then I say thank you to all those people who have paid and suffered for it.

If austerity is coming to an end it really is payback time, so let’s do it.

If we do not then our society will be smaller and meaner.

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