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14 March 2019updated 24 Jul 2021 3:05am

“A version of Brexit has ALREADY HAPPENED”: Rob Delaney, austerity, and our warped news agenda

The actor, whose two-year-old son died of cancer, tweeted about the impact of spending cuts on families.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Last January, American actor Rob Delaney’s two-year-old son Henry died of cancer. He was treated in the UK, where the family lives, and Delaney thanked “the NHS nurses and doctors and the home carers and charity workers” who helped him and his family through his son’s illness, calling them “my heroes until the day I die”.

The actor has followed up his gratitude for the NHS’s care with a lament for the impact of austerity he encountered when his son was ill.

“When I saw what Tories CHOSE to do to poor families with kids in hospital & social care as our own son was disabled & then killed by brain cancer, I grew angry & I remain angry. Tories kill, again and again, by cuts & closures,” he tweeted, in a thread condemning public spending cuts.

“A version of fucking Brexit has ALREADY HAPPENED to the poor, elderly & disabled in this country. Tory austerity has pissed on them, devalued their lives & left them to literally die,” he added.

“At the same time I saw beautiful, shining, glorious children dying in pain, I’d see their social care packages (often illegally) be cut, further ruining the parents’ already tattered lives. Austerity kills. I saw it & I’ll never forget.”

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Delaney, who is a member of the Labour Party, wrote that he feels “physically sick” when “watching smart” people say “both sides suck”, because the policy that has most defined his life in the UK has been a Conservative one.

When a Tory-led government was elected in 2010, it brought in an austerity agenda that has now more than halved council spending on public services. This is all while the costs of social care are going up.

As libraries, roads, youth clubs, schools and children’s services appear to be disintegrating, as covered in the New Statesman’s Crumbling Britain series, the cost of social care is rising.

According to the Local Government Association, adult social care services alone face a £1.5bn funding gap by 2019/20, and a £3.5bn gap by 2024/25.

Real-terms spending on adult social care fell by -5.8 per cent from 2010-17, and English councils were expected to cut nearly five per cent of the total budget in 2018/19. This is at the same time as rising demand: the number of people in need of care aged 65 and over increased by 14.3 per cent from 2010-17, and the number of adults with learning disabilities rose by around 20 per cent in 2009-14.

As Delaney observes, these growing costs and squeezed budgets have led to social care services being stretched – hitting those relying on the state for their care.

It is telling that Chancellor Philip Hammond made no mention of fixing the social care crisis in his Spring Statement, other than yet again referring to the long-awaited spending review that has yet to signal a new funding model and more money desperately needed in local government. As social care is a legal duty of local government, it is soaking up a vanishing pool of money for other services that can lessen the burden on social care services in the first place.

Two years ago, in the March 2017 Budget, the government announced that it would publish a green paper on adult social care, to allow for a public consultation and a new policy for funding it. This was also a promise in the Conservatives’ 2017 election manifesto.

It still has yet to appear, having been delayed six times by my count, the most recent government utterance being that it will be published “at the first opportunity in 2019” (it was originally supposed to be summer 2017).

Delaney’s claim that “A version of fucking Brexit has ALREADY HAPPENED to the poor, elderly & disabled in this country” is particularly striking.

In terms of the economic and social devastation and uncertainty Brexit’s detractors fear it will bring, this apocalyptic picture is already a reality for some families and communities across the country – as a result of austerity. No wonder horror stories about the catastrophe of no deal fail to land.

Austerity is indeed a “version of Brexit”, in that it would be leading the news agenda if the UK wasn’t absorbed in wrangling its departure from the EU. Just look at the horror at police cuts when there’s a “fallow” Brexit week, to use the journalistic lingo, and other crises get some oxygen.

Equally, the failings of the new welfare system Universal Credit – part of austerity, by cutting benefits – would be a “version of Brexit” in terms of media attention; a huge, costly, poorly-planned public policy disaster.

This isn’t to say Brexit should be covered any less, but rather its coverage, and the public, would benefit from more of an understanding of how Britain is quietly falling apart at the seams. This situation, after all, was part of what drove the Leave vote in the first place.