‘Shrinking Lives in the English Countryside’: NYT in Cumbria

Those protected by company of others, strength of youth, myth of economics, luxury of wealth, and arrogance of power, would seldom understand how little changes can affect lives of those living a capricious and vulnerable existence.  

How, for example, elimination of a single bus route can bring life to a standstill. A recent NYT article looks at how benefit cuts and ‘austerity measures’ have brought poverty, isolation and deprivation for those living in the picturesque Cumbria.  

Benefit cuts, including cuts in bus transport subsidy, owing to 'the Conservative-led government's decade-long austerity program', have increased isolation among the residents of Alston. 'Austerity' has amplified problems in Cumbria. In 2012, Cumbria received £200 million, this year, 2019, it is only £17.7 million. But, for those who think even £17.7 million is far too much, don't fret since 'by 2021, the council expects the grant to disappear entirely'.

The council compensates government cuts by raising council tax (4 percent this year) and reducing other services. These changes have specifically affected elderly people. As a result, poverty rate among  the older people has increased from ‘13 percent in 2012-13...to 16 percent in 2015-16.'

NYT mentions that things can get worse after the Britain leaves the EU, but the article fails to mention that majority of Cumbria voted to Leave the European Union. NYT article also fails to mention that five of the six districts in Cumbria voted to Leave the EU.

The deprivation, and fall in the living standard, in Cumbria can explain why people voted to leave the EU. A similar sentiment runs in other parts of England where people feel betrayed by the Westminster politics. This betrayal is what I often hear when I talk to people about Brexit. No wonder, the right wing parties have gladly appropriated this ‘betrayal’ sentiment.

People continue to think that those who voted Brexit are racists. Yes, people may have voted to Leave partly because of nationalism and patriotism. But, I suspect the dismal economy, the uneven distribution, the ‘austerity’, these factors are far more important than nationalism and patriotism in explaining why a large majority of population voted Leave. If you live a precarious life, despite working hard, why wouldn't you vote against the status quo. There were some who saw an opportunity, there were some unhappy with the status quo, there were some who resented the status quo.

The market driven policies of the mainstream political parties have alienated these people. Yet, a bigger farce emerges when we see who gets to represent the voice of the vulnerable. The self appointed leaders of the vulnerable are the Nigel Farage and co. No wonder, Farage is doing well leading upto the EU elections.

The Brexit referendum was an opportunity to speak about the issues affecting majority of people in this country: rising house prices, unaffordable rents, cuts in benefits, longer NHS waiting times, rise in zero hour contracts, rise in isolation among older people, rise in anxiety among younger generation. These were the issues that needed to be confronted. Yet, Brexit became a discussion about ‘racism’, ‘white nationalism’, ‘peoples vote’, ‘hard-soft’ and so forth.

Link to the original article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/world/europe/cumbria-uk-austerity-cuts.html