It is the government which is in deficit (and cuts) denial

By Simon Barrow
March 27, 2011

Listening to the the suave propaganda pouring from the lips of Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, and other government apologists over the last 24 hours, I am struck by the persistence of the 'deficit denial' theme - and the fact that it seems to have won over a significant portion of the public. This does not make what is being said any more factually sound, ethically substantial or intellectually rigorous, of course.

The proposal is simple, and lies at the heart of the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the last 'emergency' budget, and the 2011 spring budget. Massive public spending cuts and the de-layering of the local and national state is necessary, essential and unavoidable to addressing Britain's debt mountain - and it represents moral probity too, because we should not pass on the debt burden to succeeding generations by being irresponsible ourselves.

This appeals to the 'common sense' approach of domestic 'good housekeeping', but it is deeply misleading. As I have argued elsewhere (, given the scale of the total UK deficit (which is still far from the largest in the developed world in terms of percentage of national wealth, and far less than the 1945 post-war government successfully addressed by investment not market suppression), the local and global measures needed to readjust our overall fiscal, economic, tax, production, distribution and environmental situation dwarf what is being irresponsibly lopped off vital services.

It is the government (not its critics) that is in deep denial about means and ends if it thinks that closing rape crisis centres, libraries, day-care facilities, youth services, children's centres, civil legal aid to the most vulnerable, migration and refugee support, community enterprise grants, arts, assistance for people with disabilities, health provision, jobs, charity investment, and similar, will solve our woes. The problem is private debt first and foremost, followed by lack of investment and growth to sustain a recovery.

In Britain alone, the sums involved in the spending cuts being implemented by the Conservative-led coalition - many of which reduce national income too, or worsen short-term problems (health or youth services, say) at the expense of creating longer term endemic ones - amount to less than the money that could be raised by just three measures: tax reform to stop the leaching away of billions of pounds from the wealthiest companies and individuals, an electronic levy on speculative financial activity at a rate of 10p in £1,000, and cutting the redundant Trident nuclear submarine programme.

The problem is not that there are no alternatives (as Margaret Thatcher liked to say, and as her willing and unwilling successors are saying now), the problem is that the wrong choices are being made - ones which hurt the most vulnerable and do little or nothing to address the underlying crisis of economy and environment.

Systemic wrong-doing, when you are in its grip, suggested Christian mystic, philosopher and revolutionary Simone Weil, "is not felt as evil, but as necessary, even as duty."

For this reason, inescapable necessity "is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves," as William Pitt once declared.

It is time to rise up and be subject to such damaging falsehoods no more.

See also: 'Cooperating around alternatives to a cuts-based economic strategy' - and 'Cuts are about ideology, not the deficit' -


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia - which has four interlocking areas of concern: religion, spirituality, secularity and society; transformative theological thinking from within the dissenting Christian tradition; beliefs and values in wider society; and political / economic / social / cultural change.

Ekklesia's collation of reporting and comment on the 2011 budget can be found here:

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.