Austerity has damaging psychological effect – something UK politicians should take note of

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech to party activists during a regional campaign launch in Penzance in Cornwall, south west England, April 23, 2015 (Reuters / Toby Melville)
With only weeks to go before the general election in the UK, a statement by some of the UK's leading mental health experts has warned that austerity policies are having a seriously damaging effect on the psychological well-being of ordinary people.

No surprise there you might think, what with food banks and welfare (formerly known as poor relief in the glory days of the empire) sadly becoming commonplace in Britain. But the letter which boasts more than 400 signatories, including counselors and psychotherapists, also calls for Britain's politicians to take note.

READ MORE: Emotional toxicity of austerity eroding mental health, say 400 experts

The letter claims, that the strain already being felt by some due to the government's restrictions on benefits and public spending, will be made worse by further cuts and increasing privatization-policies advocated by all of the mainstream political parties including the so-called Labour party.

The psychological strain being felt by many people, those simply trying to make ends meet, is no doubt compounded by malicious coverage in the media of those dependent on financial assistance from the state.

It's interesting then, that the same sections of the media, which delight in demonizing those claiming benefits, said nothing when the banking system itself was bailed out by the state in 2009 following the economic meltdown.

People are now working to pay for the government's blank check to the banks; the sound bite 'austerity' is just a word.

Newspapers devoting headlines to those claiming benefits, whipping up a hysterical public mood, coupled with the TV shows like 'Benefits Street' no doubt make for a dangerous recipe. Its class-ism at its worst, classic ‘divide and rule’. What's more, it’s all very misleading as to the bigger picture. Many people claiming benefits are also working full-time, as are those who have had to rely on food banks.

The warning from mental health experts is significant and should serve as a reminder to Britons as they prepare to head to the ballot boxes, of what is to come should the coalition government be returned to Downing Street in May. This is the state we're in: while ordinary people are made to suffer, companies exploiting legal loopholes continue to avoid paying their fair share of tax, largely because their interests are represented in parliament by politicians.

The warning by health experts, outlining the grueling psychological impact of austerity was published last week. Since then we've witnessed protests and demonstrations resisting government laws - laws which will essentially criminalize the homeless for being homeless, part of a widespread plan of social cleansing and gentrification being rolled out mercilessly across the capital.

And let's be clear. Housing conditions for many across the country, especially in cities, are becoming increasingly cramped. Homelessness in the UK is bad enough, a social ill that remains a scar on our collective conscience-something that should be a thing of the past in 2015.

But there's little question that worsening housing conditions, and joblessness are putting a strain on the well-being of ordinary people. It seems a scandal that homelessness, and cramped social conditions are commonplace in our society, especially when we consider that there are many buildings and homes which remain unused. To add insult to injury, those with large mansions can avoid paying tax on them, while Bullingdon boy and PM David Cameron introduced the bedroom tax - his equivalent of Margaret Thatcher's Poll Tax. You couldn't make this stuff up.

Leading mental health practitioners and experts, highlighting what we've known all along, that austerity is destroying the lives of ordinary people - people who didn't choose to bail out a corrupt banking system - should serve as a warning shot to politicians.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband greets supporters as he arrives at a campaign event in Ipswich, eastern England April 22, 2015 (Reuters / Darren Staples)

It’s not exactly as if hundreds of health experts are coming out to say how great the government's policies are, how they are necessary, outlining how these policies they will benefit wider society. And people are tired of the stock political answer they receive when making this point which is usually: "Yes times are tough, but we have to reduce the national deficit, and we're all in this together". 'We', a word so irresponsibly thrown around by politicians, so disrespectful, and an indication that they have absolutely no understanding, or desire to understand the people whose lives they are gambling with.

“We're in this together.” This is the lie which may have prevented the dam from bursting thus far. But when it breaks, and break it shall, unless working people are listened to, it will be a flooding of discontent and unrest which threatens the so-called order of our society-a social meltdown, something which is far more dangerous than the banks collapsing. Maybe we're being pushed unavoidably into the arms of martial law police state, or maybe we're already there and haven't realized. Whatever the agenda is though, we must continue to resist and to fight the government's policies

To this end politicians would do well to listen to health experts, to the warnings that their policies are, let’s put it mildly, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Their ideology is pushing people, psychologically to the brink. The UK has experienced rioting before, historically, and also just a couple of years ago. Most of us do not want to see this happen again, especially those of us who live in the areas which were affected, and do not live in Primrose Hill, a leafy suburb or a nice cottage in the Shires. We really are all in this together.

We are at a pivotal moment in British history. All around Europe the effects of years of failed Neo Liberalism, or perhaps just plain old liberalism are there to see. In extreme cases like Greece for example, we've seen a radical response to a radical problem. The pain being felt by Greeks, extreme poverty, suicide and desperation was such that Syriza, a left wing response to austerity, and all the nasty side effects that came with it, like the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn party, emerged as a strong response to such failed economic policies. Syriza and Tsipras have rejected the idea that ordinary Greeks should pay for the failings of powerful financial institutions.

Here in Britain, if we are to take a serious stance in rejecting the politics of austerity, we should follow a similar model and reject any politicians which advocate more of the same for the next few years. The idea that we should settle for something which is either just bad or really bad is not good enough, and that is, that selecting the lesser of two evils at the ballot box is ever really any choice. It isn't. But this is indeed the sad state of affairs with our now almost defunct one party political system.

Britain has a chance to begin a process which can change this. All the propaganda and scare tactics on display at the Scottish Independence referendum are being wheeled out now. But if British people examine what the politicians are saying, it’s clear which leaders are advocating more austerity, the effects of which are being warned about by mental health experts, and which are not. Needless to say, those rejecting austerity, utterly and unequivocally should be supported.

To continue down the path of cuts to public spending, by hammering Britain's ordinary communities almost guarantees a summer of discontent and further rioting. Power wielders better hope that if this happens, an ever increasingly politicized 'underclass' as the poor are often characterized as, don't just set their sights this time on JJB or Footlocker.

The British people are not stupid. All that is in the dark regarding how the political establishment operates is coming to light, their crimes being highlighted for all to see. Scapegoating and pitting the poor against the poor, will only work for so long. People are becoming increasingly aware as to the real nature of power. Britain's politicians can either change their ways now, or simply hope that this growing discontent will be expressed and contained only at the ballot box. With the way things are heading this seems very unlikely.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.