How Cameron disguised the true level of cuts

The Prime Minister attempted to hide extra cuts by the coalition in his speech on public service ref

In his speech on public-service reform yesterday, David Cameron attempted to assuage fears over the coalition's spending cuts. He said:

[When] we're done with these cuts, spending on public services will actually still be at the same level as it was in 2006. We will still be spending 41 per cent of our GDP on the public sector.

The Prime Minister's words were deceptive on two levels. First, he omitted to mention that this represents a reduction of more than 6 per cent of GDP (see table B2). Under Margaret Thatcher, spending fell by an equivalent amount (from 45.1 per cent of GDP to 39.2 per cent) but over 11 years, not five. Even then, the fall was largely due to economic growth, not spending cuts.

As I've pointed out before, during the Iron Lady's time in office, spending rose by 1.1 per cent a year on average - the reason why it was so absurd for Nick Clegg to vow that there would be no return to the "savage cuts" of the 1980s.

Cameron was also wrong to claim that spending will be 41 per cent of GDP "when we're done with these cuts". True, spending will be 41.8 per cent in 2013-2014 but, as the graph below shows, it will fall again to 40.4 per cent in 2014-2015 and to 39.3 per cent in 2015-2016. Thus, the Prime Minister hid additional spending reductions of nearly 2 per cent of GDP. After the coalition's programme of cuts is complete, spending will actually be at the same level as it was in 2004, not 2006.

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Another significant detail is that the government's spending cuts are permanent, not temporary. When asked by a Fire Brigade worker last summer if funding would be restored once the deficit has been addressed, Cameron replied:

The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, [is] I think we should be trying to avoid that approach.

The Prime Minister's insistence that we should try to "avoid that approach" reveals an ideological attachment to the small state and to low levels of spending. The result will be permanently shrunken public services. Cameron is free to argue for this position, but next time he should do so on the basis of fact, not myth.

UPDATE: I should have pointed out that spending under Thatcher reached a peak of 48.1 per cent in 1982-83 before falling to 38.9 per cent in 1988-89, a reduction of 9.2 per cent, larger than the 8.1 per cent reduction planned by the coalition. But my substantive point stands: Cameron is hiding the true extent of the cuts.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.