How much social unrest will the UK suffer?

Britain's limited welfare state means that austerity measures will be harder to implement.

After last week's student protests, activists warned: "this is just the beginning". But how much social unrest will Britain suffer compared to other European countries? Société Générale has put together a fascinating graphic (see below) that attempts to predict the levels of social unrest that different austerity packages will trigger.

It suggests that the threat of social unrest is greatest in Spain and Ireland, where unemployment has risen sharply since the crisis began (by 97 per cent in Ireland and by 61 per cent in Spain), and predicts that austerity measures will be hardest to introduce in the US and the UK, where social provision is low by European standards.

The OECD has previously warned that the comparatively small size of the UK's welfare state means that the rise in inequality is likely to be more severe. "Because there is already less public spending on some areas, there is a risk that it will crumble away more quickly," Herwig Immervoll said.

Olli Kangas, another expert on inequality, pointed out: "Sweden has a fat welfare state, Finland's is a bit slimmer, and in the UK it is thin. If the welfare state is losing weight it will have more impact in the UK than in Sweden and Finland."

(Click to enlarge image)

Austerity

It also means that there is less fat for George Osborne to cut to begin with. The danger for the coalition is that theoretical savings fail to materialise in practice. A recent report from the Commons public accounts committee revealing that only £15bn of the £35bn of savings identified in the 2007 Spending Review have been achieved, and that just 38 per cent of those were considered "legitimate value-for-money savings", was an early warning. Faced with this conundrum, Osborne is likely to resort to slashing frontline services. It is for this reason that the poor, who are disproportionately reliant on public services, are certain to be hit hardest by the spending review. Prepare for a lot more social unrest.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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