Whose freedom and choice?

IN HIS recent comments to Policy Research, Horsham MP Francis Maude extols a Conservative vision of freedom and choice (County Times March 15).

In the same and an earlier edition, a local charity, The Ark, urges recognition of the growing number accessing its services who are facing homelessness or unable to make ends meet without access to food parcels.

Whose freedoms? What choices? Much of Europe is in austerity lockdown with little idea how to proceed without screwing down further those who have limited responsibility for continuing, gross political and economic failure.

Mr Maude is entitled to be heard but so too are experts like Prof Taylor-Gooby of Kent University. His new research has shown that across 26 developed welfare states between 1980 and 2005 greater poverty, privatisation of public services and job insecurity has led to increased social disorder.

Specifically, he argues, ‘The UK Government’s social programme involves the most profound policy changes for at leat two generations’. Drawing on projections from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, he notes that about 500,000 more children will be in poverty by 2015.

He adds, ‘Last summer the poorest areas of big cities experienced the most violent riots for a considerable period. This was followed by major demonstrations and the largest strikes against government policies - particularly the public sector pension cuts - since the 1980s.

‘Similar unrest is evident elsewhere in Europe. As 2012 progresses we will see further increases in poverty, rising unemployment, greater insecurity for those in work and more privatisation as the welfare state is cut back. We will also see more riots, demonstrations and strikes disrupting our cities’.

All of this might be greeted with a shrug; there is no alternative, it does not concern me, we must grin and bear it as we wait for better times.

It may take a few years, of course, or even ten but at least we are not in the same situation as Japan, with a similarly flatlining economy entering its third decade.

That said, it is a trifle worrying that the Chancellor tells us that he must reduce welfare costs by another £10.5bn in 2016-17, especially as we have begun to realise that welfare expenditure supports more than those we have been encouraged to see as scroungers.

ERIK SHOPLAND

Denne Road, Horsham