To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, not only can we no longer afford to die beyond our means, it would seem any form of demand we place upon health or welfare services in the next few years is likely to end in an unhappy user experience. That is if we are to believe the government's projected plans for spending cuts, which seem to change on a weekly basis. Two weeks ago we were told there would be across-the-board cuts of 25%, now government departments must prepare for 40%. No doubt by the time you read this sentence, the coalition government's new website for the repeal of unhelpful legislation will abolished the laws of mathematics, allowing fiscal cuts of 150%.
The consequences of this, as has been much remarked elsewhere, not least by those wielding the axe, will not be pretty, with up to 1.5 million public sector workers finding themselves relieved of their ability to earn money. To balance this, George Osborne has promised on his mum's life that the private sector will leap into the breach to magic up 2.5 million other positions by way of compensation, like a fat-fingered, job-creating Dutch boy. Since such a scale of employment growth are unknown in even the boomiest of growth years, it doesn't so much beg the question as to how this will happen as grab it by the collar pressing a knife to its throat.
But when you put together the clues given by recent government policy announcements, the answer becomes clear: you're going to do it. Yes, you. Consider the newly-announced, misleadingly paradoxical Free Schools, where any Tom, Dick or Hermione with a bigger agenda than sense can set up his or her own school. Meanwhile, Ian Duncan Smith wants the Job Centres to be available for the distribution of Rwandan-style food parcels to the poor of this country; maybe we could combine the two, and get school children to grow food for the new starving to generate a wartime spirit and Dig For Victory? This is the Big Society at work or, should I say, at out-of-work. And here's where you come in.
Free Schools, Food Vouchers, growth of the third sector - it's all a bit piecemeal. And with attempts by the new government to tighten immigration from non-EU countries, it surely means it won't be enough to offer people the chance to run a school, job centre or orthopaedic surgery unit. Pretty soon we'll all be obliged to do so. As the rubbish fills the streets and the dead go unburied, everyone will be compelled to take a second job as road sweeper, social worker or Astronomer Royal to fill the gaps left by the collapse of local government under the Austerity Budget. We'll all be like a new immigrant class, with two jobs to hold down just to make sure there are enough people replacing the windows following the bread riots.
On the other hand, the extra money will come in handy to pay for all those tax rises.
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