There has been a lot of talk over the last few years of the austerity regime taking us back to Victorian values – the workhouses, the slums, the lack of health care for anyone but the richest. The idea that the rich are somehow more worthy, destined to govern over the feckless poor. At least the Victorians tended towards even the lip service of compassion for those ‘less fortunate’ – now the narrative has it that the poor are the architects of their own degradation and oppression.
I would suggest a different view of where we’re headed back to if the government we elect tomorrow is one which does not acknowledge the failures and costs of austerity. If the Conservatives are allowed back into Downing Street, we will not have wound the clock back a century, but a thousand years. Ten thousand years. We will be back in the era revealed by the graves uncovered across the world, filled with the bones of human sacrifices.
The theories surrounding human sacrifice and its reasons vary, but the core theme is that a community would decide that, in order to appease whatever power governed their lives – gods, nature, fate – a life would be given. To ensure a good harvest or success in a battle, the most serious of all rituals would be undertaken. A life would be spilled out at the stone, or choked on a tree. Many such graves contain the remains of disabled people.
So here we are, in an election season in which the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have paraded up and down the country, on TV and radio and in the streets, talking about their incredible economic ‘recovery’. The truth of that statement is much debated, but it isn’t what I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about, no, *who* I want to talk about are the dead. The bones in the graves, or the ashes in the wind. If the Economy is our modern day god – the power that controls and sustains us all – then we have to talk about the cost we paid for it. If the austerity acolytes are going to praise themselves for how they managed to save us from disaster, then they need to acknowledge *how* they did that. And they did it by performing human sacrifice. Maybe not in robes on hills in the dark, but in suits with chequebooks and media quotes. They chose the people who would be the offering and killed them as surely as if they had dashed their brains out with a rock. And, just as it happened in the Stone Age, those people were mostly disabled.
There are, at the very least, 70 deaths credited directly to the Coalition policies. In these cases, the inquests have specifically cited the effects of austerity politics as the driving cause. Spending any time at all within the disability community reveals the truth: there are thousands more, people driven to despair and unable to find support because the nation has turned against us. For the sake of argument, though, let’s just stick with those 70 lives.
It is not enough to say that they didn’t know, that it was an unintended consequence, because they did know. Maybe not at first. Maybe, initially, they believed their own rhetoric and thought that people were just not motivated enough to find work and poverty would given them that boost. Maybe they believed the tale told by the rich: that all poor people need is the right mindset and they could thrive, too. Within a year, though, it was clear that this was not true. The consequences of austerity were given faces and names and gravestones. And then the nature of this choice changed.
Once they knew that the cost of their policies was the lives of disabled and vulnerable people, they could have adjusted the system. They could have put in the safeguards necessary, could have dialed back the brutality of the cuts. They could have decided that an economy built on the corpses of the people they were supposed to protect was tainted by that crime and understood that slower recovery was preferable to the litany of deaths. They did not. They cut further and harder, removing more and more of the services required for survival, and in doing so they made their choice clear. When questioned on it recently, David Cameron specifically said that the system was working as intended. Which means that those deaths are an intended feature, not a bug.
I was at a festival last week where Summer was welcomed with fire and drums, dancing and singing and flames. It was the festival of life, of fertility and hope, and part of that was the acted out story of the Green Man and the May Queen. He dies and is reborn, and the world blossoms into vitality. In the 21st century, it was a gloriously primal celebration that sparked the sensation of connection all the way back through history to our ancestors and the communities which lived on this island when it was covered with forests and predators still stalked the land. It was a far cry from watching PMQs, but I should have seen it, years ago. I should have understood then that the suits and green benches and red briefcase are just the modern day ritual garb of a country that is performing its own ritual. Give us security, and we will give you these lives. At least let us be honest about it. At least let us given the dead the respect they deserve for being the foundation stone of our vaunted economy. At least let us remember their faces and names when we talk about the growth percentage points. And if we can, let us make sure the priests overseeing this do too.
Or better yet, take the power away from them. Take away the stones and the hanging ropes and let us move back towards a world where human sacrifice is not a price worth paying for some people to have a lot of shiny coins. The first step to doing that is making sure everyone knows that it *is already the price we are paying*. Don’t let these murderous, faceless people back. Don’t tell them that it’s ok that they made this choice, especially as their intent is to expand this ritual. Take away their knives. We can’t get the dead back, but their lives can be honoured if we stop it from happening again.