Austerity and Prosperity

The political orthodoxy is that the current programme of austerity is the only medicine to restore economic health and bring about prosperity. But what kind of health and prosperity are we heading for? What do we sacrifice as individuals and as a society along the way? And should we consider alternative remedies?

Over the next two months Lacuna will provide readers with a series of provocative articles to encourage deeper and broader thinking about the linked issues of austerity and prosperity. We will publish a range of voices, combining investigative journalism with academic insight and perspectives from practice (of law, business, civil society, and others).

Our writers will examine the human impact of particular austerity measures such as welfare reform and the withdrawal of legal aid, and consider how particular groups might be affected in the longer term.

We also recognize that austerity involves a number of choices, which if followed through, will lead to a particular type of prosperity. But there are competing visions and this edition of Lacuna will explore them to provoke serious thought about what kind of society we aspire to be.

Our first selection looks from the perspective of women. Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi investigates the disconnect between UK government policy and the lived experiences of single parents, who have been heavily impacted by welfare reform as well as other austerity measures. Amy Watson also documents the experience of single mothers, this time in the Czech Republic. She discusses how the negative effects of welfare austerity have become normalized as part of the country’s transition to a market-based economy.

Kalwinder Sandhu writes about her experiences as a researcher investigating the impact of austerity on black, Asian and minority ethnic women. She describes the difficulties in researching these issues, and how it made her feel differently about her race and gender as a result.

Beatriz Hernandez raises concerns that, across the EU, women are disproportionately affected by austerity measures and that governments are quick to remove money from programmes promoting gender equality. Her report focuses on a project for immigrant women in Denmark faced with closure as a result of budget cuts. She argues that it’s vital that politicians measure the impact of their spending cuts on women and gender equality.

Is such measurement possible? James Harrison and Mary Ann Stephenson explore the British government’s claim that it’s not feasible to measure the cumulative effects of austerity measures on sick and disabled people, their families and carers. But even if such assessments may be complex, they argue that they are not only possible but also essential, and already happening up and down the country.

Finally, we provide our first perspective on prosperity. The Women’s Budget Group argue that current economic policy is reversing the gender equality gains made over recent decades. Instead, they argue for a feminist plan (‘Plan F’) to revive the economy, built on social infrastructure spending on areas such as education, health, and care work. This, they say, should be complemented by sustainable investments in green energy and social housing. And it should be financed through imaginative and fairer forms of taxation

The argument evokes a common thread in all these pieces: in the public debate around austerity and what a prosperous future looks like, some voices are louder than others, and many aren’t heard at all. In opening this new edition of Lacuna, we give voice to some of those most affected, but rarely heard.

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