SMALL-STATE Tories will no doubt pat themselves on the back after hearing that the public sector represents its lowest share of the labour market since 1947.
Since Thatcher’s day Conservatives have bleated out a “public bad, private good” approach to the delivery of services with the brain-dead conformity of Orwellian sheep.
The neoliberal ideology depends on the myth that private profit is the greatest motivating force in the universe, and anything driven by it will perform better than if it were run on different lines.
This fantasy is fed by a warped version of history in which an overbearing, inefficient public sector was hacked back by the bold free market zealots of the Thatcher era, authors of Britain’s current, er, success.
In fact the Thatcherites never even delivered the goods on their own terms, those of growth: as former mayor of London Ken Livingstone has pointed out, Britain’s economy grew in size by around 150 per cent in the three decades before Thatcher took power — the supposedly stagnant social democratic period — and by around 100 per cent in the three decades after 1979.
Aside from the economic slowdown precipitated by Thatcherism, our country has paid the price in other ways.
Wages have shrunk as a share of national income as profit for the bosses rose, making Britain a far more unequal country.
The latest assault on the welfare state, carried out by the Cameron-Clegg and Theresa May governments since 2010, has intensified that inequality to grotesque levels: with people in full-time work forced to rely on foodbanks to feed their children, or vulnerable individuals like Mark Wood or David Clapson starving to death after their benefits were cut, the first deaths from hunger in this country for decades.
As the GMB union points out in its research released yesterday, the axe taken to our public services has seen a million jobs destroyed.
Tories will snap back that new, better, private-sector jobs have been created.
This is a parody of the truth. In fact, the mass cull of jobs in local government has seen services reduced to the bone or done away with altogether.
Libraries, youth clubs and leisure centres have closed. Social care is in crisis and vacant posts in services like the NHS are at record levels.
Where public service jobs have been lost through outsourcing, the pay and conditions workers can expect from the Tories’ beloved private sector have invariably been worse: take the Doncaster care workers shunted from NHS employment to that of Care UK, who were forced to take strike action after their new bosses slashed pay by up to £6,000 a year.
That doesn’t just affect the workers concerned, of course: public service union Unison has highlighted the disastrous effect on patients when carers on the minimum wage (or less, when unpaid travel time is taken into account) are rushing from house to house with just 15 minutes to spend with each person in their care.
The Conservatives talk as if public servants are some alien body removed from the rest of our society: so Theresa May can justify continued attacks on their pay by claiming she has to balance their needs with being “fair to taxpayers,” as if nurses, firefighters or civil servants paid no tax.
In fact, they make a huge contribution to Britain’s economy and society while delivering services we need — services we have seen deteriorate when handed over to the private sector, as happened to our rip-off railways.
A shrinking public sector is nothing to celebrate. Behind these statistics lies a morass of human misery and broken lives.
Britain’s recovery from decades of market madness relies on the expansion of public ownership and the championing of our public servants.