Austerity Kills

During a recent anti-austerity pre-budget protest in Dublin (October 12, 2013) (see photos in the Gallery below) a community group called The Spectacle of Defiance and Hope, joined by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and other groups, led a march through the streets of Dublin, with a horse drawn hearse with the words “Austerity Kills” inside the glass carriage. In the “call out” for the protest, Rita Fagan of the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope steering group said:

“Community development in its radical form is to challenge and change the unjust structures of our society. The gap between the rich and poor has been encouraged to grow wider as a result of austerity. There is no will by this current administration to close the gap.

We have the responsibility to defend and fight for our people and those suffering at this present time in Irish society. Don’t give in to the line “What does protesting achieve”. Protesting is only part of the process but we must be part of the movement who will defend the most vulnerable in this war against the poor. The Spectacle says “No to austerity” “No to the cruelty of these policies” and “No to the unjust decision of our present government who protects the wealthy and the bondholders over its ordinary people”. 

The slogan “Austerity Kills” is not just rhetoric. In an extract from my forthcoming book Social Movements and Globalization, I highlight recent research into the human and economic costs of austerity:

“In a major comparative study of the health impacts of austerity programs across the world, Stuckler and Basu (2013) estimate that in Europe and the US there has been an increase in depression (about 1 million) and suicides (some 10,000 more) since the introduction of austerity measures after the crisis. In Greece, where the Troika have imposed radical austerity cuts in exchange for an economic bailout, HIV rates have increased by 200%. Their most crucial finding is not that financial crises cause unemployment, foreclosure and debts which lead to negative health outcomes, but that the way governments respond radically affects public and economic health outcomes. When governments enact austerity cuts they slow the economic cycles further, and the social and economic costs are much higher than the “savings” generated from the cuts. On the other hand, when governments intervene with stimulus packages early on, not only do they help build the economic cycle over time but also avert health crises and increase the welfare of citizens.  Work such as that of Stuckler and Basu show that challenging austerity is much more than just trying to maintain individual gains in a bad situation, it is about overturning the flawed logic of a system that is not working to meet people’s needs.”

Of course, many of us in Europe are all too aware of the eviction related suicides that are devastating families and communities. This has led activists in Spain, such as the very active Platform for those Affected by Mortgages (PAH) http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/to argue that these are not suicides, they are “austericides,” a direct result of the government’s decision to bail out the banks at the expense of the citizens. In this way they shift the idea of suicide as an individual response to a collective and social problem. Housing is indeed one of the key issues that connect the crisis experience of many people in Ireland and Spain. More on housing to come in future posts.

References:

Flesher Fominaya, Cristina (2014) Social Movements and Globalization. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stuckler, D. and Basu, S. (2013) The Body Economic. London: Allen Lane.

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