Why do politicians forget the human cost of missed government targets?

Stephanie Bottrill has become a symbol of Coalition Government failure. She was wrongly charged Bedroom Tax (a cost-cutting measure introduced by the Coalition Government). No longer able to pay for food and heating, she committed suicide - and the government still failed to reach its fiscal targets.

Stephanie Bottrill has become a symbol of Coalition Government failure. Wrongly charged Bedroom Tax (a Coalition cost-cutting measure) and unable to pay for food and heating, she committed suicide – and the government still failed to reach its fiscal targets.

Professor Simon Wren-Lewis is a terrific source of wisdom when it comes to macroeconomics, but sometimes it seems he loses track of why we mess around with money.

His latest Mainly Macro blog article begins with a claim that it is odd to criticise the policy of fiscal austerity, and at the same time complain that the government has failed to meet its own 2010 fiscal target. “It would be more logical to praise the government for abandoning its 2010 target,” he writes. “But politicians cannot resist criticising a missed target.”

What about the human cost, Professor?

People with mental illnesses have been forced off Employment and Support Allowance and onto Jobseekers’ Allowance, then sanctioned off of that benefit to meet government-imposed targets. We know of one such person who froze to death in the street – and the government still missed its 2010 fiscal target.

Another person – also with mental health problems – committed suicide after being sanctioned and was found, hanged, at the top of his stairs – and the government still missed its 2010 fiscal target.

What about the grandmother who committed suicide by walking in front of a lorry on the motorway, because she couldn’t afford the cost of living after the Bedroom Tax had been introduced? We later discovered that the charge had been wrongly imposed on her. The government had kept the money but still missed its 2010 fiscal target!

Here’s a list including 70 other people whose deaths were related to government cutbacks – the vast majority of which took place during the current Parliament. They died for the government to reach its fiscal target – and it didn’t.

Perhaps Professor Wren-Lewis has made a good point by accident.

He is right to suggest that politicians are wrong to criticise the government for failing to meet its fiscal target – but only because they are doing so for the wrong reasons.

Maybe we should remind our MPs that, every time they attack the Coalition Government’s fiscal failures, they need to mention the many deaths that have been caused – deaths which Conservative ministers at the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions seem to regard as collateral damage or an occupational hazard.

Perhaps we should invite Professor Wren-Lewis to ensure he mentions these deaths in his own communications with the government – if and when he ever does so.

Please also share this with any politicians you believe would benefit from the information.

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6 thoughts on “Why do politicians forget the human cost of missed government targets?

  1. shaun

    Hi Mike, Mainlymacro is a great site for gaining information about economic policy alternatives to the Tories austerity policy with its falling tax revenues, cuts for the poor, lower GDP and lower tax receipts so greater benefit cuts and so on. He has lately been getting involved in political policy decisions as there is often a disconnect between what the Tories say an economic policy is for, and what its political outcome has been. He has argued that as the cuts have not achieved their economic targets, and as most economists stated they would not, it seems obvious that these economic policies were introduced as it gave the Tories an economic reason for cutting public services. He got quite a lot of criticism for getting involved in politics. However, said it was the right thing to do due to nature of this government and its abuse of economic theory.
    in short he’s on my side – I’m disabled, live in a council house, receive benefits and my daughter works as doctor, Clinical psychologist, in the NHS. I think he’s not a seasoned politician and as such we should try and cut him some slack; rather than hoist him on his own petard at the first opportunity.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      As you’ll know, having read Vox Political for some time, I’m a fan of Mainly Macro and often link to the latest articles, therefore it seems unfair of you to suggest that I’ve “hoist him on his own petard” at the first opportunity. You’ll notice the article isn’t entitled “Why do economists forget the human cost of missed government targets?”
      In fact the idea for the piece came to me while I was reading Professor Wren-Lewis’s article because I was researching expert opinion on current SNP fiscal policy. That comment in the first paragraph really struck me, as somebody who does stand up and shout about the human cost of this government. It seemed clear that Prof W-L had overlooked what these missed targets but real cuts actually signified – but it seemed more clear that he would not have done so, had more Parliamentarians not done so first.

      1. Andy

        I think that the question you put “What about the human cost, Professor?” is a little unfair in its context to Simon Wren-Lewis’ article. Economics is generally not a humanitarian pursuit. He’s pointing out that current economic policy has failed on its own economic terms but governments can’t bear to admit their wrong. This comment from a Noam Chomsky interview sums it up.

        “There was an interesting article about this in The Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago comparing Mexico and Brazil. It said that Mexico is an ‘economic miracle’ – the numbers all look fine, the macroeconomic statistics are great, the growth rate is going up, inflation is down – just perfect, they’re following all the rules. It points out that there’s only one problem: The population is suffering badly. The poverty rate is going up – it was always terrible but it’s getting much worse. Starvation is getting worse, people don’t have jobs; the population is suffering bitterly but it’s called an ‘economic miracle.’ Well, there’s nothing surprising about that. When Brazil was the darling of the international investors, Brazil’s generals said, ‘The economy is doing fine – it’s just the people who aren’t.’”

        – “Debt, Drugs and Democracy: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Maria Luisa Mendonca”, NACLA Report on the Americas, Jul/Aug 1999

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        It isn’t unfair, for the reason mentioned in the article. Economics is not an end in itself. There can only be one reason for governments to meddle with economics, and that is to change the conditions of life for their citizens. If those conditions have worsened, and the government has not met its economic targets either, then it is not only right but important for the government to be reminded of this fact – day in and day out – until either the policies are changed and conditions improve, or the government is removed.

  2. Chris

    All fiscal deficit reduction and austerity has never happened since 2010.

    Welfare admin has risen as money to the starving has been totally lost to able bodied and sick or disabled of all ages. In work or out.

    Pensioners are about to be joined by new pensioners from 2016 with nil state pension for life.
    See why, under my petition, in my WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT section, at:
    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/state-pension-at-60-now

    You might also care please, to sign the bigger petition
    that started my petition when I saw that worse was to come with the flat rate pension:
    http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/statepensionlaw

    The nation is more in debt than it was in 2010.
    Nothing has been saved.
    Nothing has been paid off.
    Nor will it.

    Public spending did not cause the recession.

    What causes the crisis was a major global company going bust called Lehman Bros / AIG.

    Council grants will fall to a mere £2.2 billion by 2020 from around £14 billion it was in 2010. This means practically nil help to the vulnerable of all ages.

    Sanctions starve people to death and threatens the unborn to the over 60s equally.

    Workfare and daily sign-ons at Jobcentres, without toilet provision, deprives people of food money, wasting it on bus fares.

    If all the welfare admin was shut tomorrow, and all the conditionality of benefit and state pension ended, then tens of billions would be saved the next day, and all that money would pour into the community, generating jobs and much needed business rates to cash strapped councils.

    Shutting the cruel 750 Jobcentres does not impact jobs, as these are being lost when they go digital in March. But money would be saved on wasted IT.

    But ending sanctions ends the trebling of such jobs since 2006 of DWP sanction decison makers.

    Sanctioning someone is starvation by design.

    And 1 million starving is what sanctioning produces.

    But the new pensioners from 2016 face life without Pension Credit, facing nil benefit, and nil state pension.
    http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/statepensionlaw

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