In sad but unsurprising news, a report by the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the British Psychoanalytic Council shows that psychotherapy, and in particular long-term psychotherapy, is getting more and more difficult to access on the NHS. They surveyed 2000 psychotherapists.
Today Oxfam published their briefing paper, A Cautionary Tale: The true cost of austerity and inequality in Europe. They describe the enormous suffering and waste that austerity measures have caused both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. As a mental health professional, I’m particularly disheartened that suicide rates are increasing in the UK after years of decline. They’re also on the increase in Spain. I suspect this tragic increase is a reflection of lower standards of living, greater inequality, higher unemployment and the slashing of public services to help vulnerable people.
Oxfam point out that this is a tale they’ve seen elsewhere.
The European experience bears striking similarities to the structural adjustment policies imposed on Latin America, South-East Asia, and Sub-Saharan African in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries in these regions received financial bailouts from the IMF and the World Bank after agreeing to adopt a range of policies including public-spending cuts, the nationalization of private debt, reductions in wages, and a debt management model in which repayments to creditors of commercial banks took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. These policies were a failure; a medicine that sought to cure the disease by killing the patient.
They also have some unpleasant predictions for the future.
Austerity measures will have impacts beyond their period of implementation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that poverty rates in the UK will have increased by between 2.5 and 5 percentage points by 2020, equivalent to 2.7 million more people living in poverty.
Europe could have an additional 15 to 25 million people living in poverty by 2025 if austerity measures continue, equivalent to the population of the Netherlands and Austria combined.
At best, the countries most affected by austerity will become the most unequal in the Western world. At worst, they will rank amongst the most unequal anywhere in the world.
Oxfam point out that austerity isn’t even succeeding on its own terms, with most EU countries seeing their debt-to-GDP ratio go up, not down.
Ireland’s return to growth is often held up as an exception to the above. Yet Ireland potentially offers a window into the future for other EU countries, with reports of high levels of regional income inequality, insecure employment and significantly decreased spending power. Moreover, Ireland is highly dependent upon the state redistributing income through taxes and transfers, a feat which is likely to diminish as austerity measures continue to bite.
They call for an end to this failed approach, arguing that the EU should accept that much of the current public debt is simply unpayable, and should negotiate a restructuring or cancellation of the debts. This should be combined with stimulus programmes, investment in public services, strengthening of democracy and fairer taxation.
You can read the full report here.
I’ve been following the stories from Greece over the past couple of years as recession and euro crisis has hit with full force. While I have a very perfunctory knowledge of economics (does an A level count?) and perhaps brush some of the details from my mind, it’s hard not to appreciate and empathise with the human cost of the austerity measures that are being driven though without a democratic mandate by the current Greek government, itself appointed.
I couldn’t fail though to be moved by the pictures that came in from Athens on Sunday night as the city burned while the politicians argued as they risked plunging Greece into ever sharper constraints demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to fund another bailout.
While sometimes it’s easy to think of numbers such as 130 Billion Euros as beyond imagination – when a number reaches such a great number it becomes an intellectual equivalent to an statement of infinity, the figure, unfortunately, is real and the debt will be met at considerable human cost.
It’s not going to be those politicians who vote on this matter that will be punished by these measures.
CNN lists some of the proposed ‘savings’ and we can see exactly where the ‘pain’ is going to be felt
• Reduce the minimum wage straight away from €751 ($989) to €600 ($790) per month. For those under 25, the minimum wage will be slashed by 32%
• Cut pension provision and include a “strict link between contributions and benefits”
• Make 15,000 public sector workers redundant by the end of the year.
So who is going to pay the highest price to the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission?
Those who have the least spare. The young, the unemployed (whose ranks will be growing with redundancies) and the pensioners.
We can joke about bloated public servants – and I won’t vouch for every one of those 15,000 jobs ( note that our own government does the same here) but public sector workers do have functions to serve and do work with people across all income brackets. These functions will be lost.
Again in the CNN article, chillingly, it is noted there are proposals to reduce spending on overtime of hospital doctors and make 1 billion euro savings on medication.
While there is a proposal to push through measures against tax evasion, that really is too little too late. The price is being paid by citizens for actions of previous governments and ruling classes who were more attentive to looking after their own then building better systems for their citizens.
As for the future, as well as the spectre of a move towards extremism across Europe as the impact of the bank-created recession builds there is likely to be more generations of emigrants of those most able to leave the countries that struggle the most. This will mean that those left behind struggle to a greater degree.
Unemployment in Greece is currently touching 21%. and it may yet defaulton the payments that have been demanded.
Caught between two evils, it’s hard to know or see a way out but there will be as there has to be.
We cannot ignore the pain inflicted on the southern fringes of Europe. Where Greece go, others may follow. Although we are not facing the same situations in the UK, the instinct of the ruling and political classes to save ‘their own’ at the expense of those who have least to give certainly rings true and while I doubt the empathy and solidarity of one social worker in the UK will have much significance to the people of Greece, it’s all I have to give. It seems so little.