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17 September 2020

David Cameron claims austerity prepared Britain for Covid-19 – it did the opposite

The former prime minister's cuts were almost perfectly tailored to weaken the state before the pandemic. 

By Anoosh Chakelian

In an updated foreword to the paperback edition of his memoirs, For the Record, David Cameron makes an extraordinary claim. He insists the austerity agenda his government pursued has helped the UK’s response to coronavirus.

The Mirror has the wording:

“Covid-19 was the rainy day we had been saving for.

“Our actions meant that the next but one administration was able to offer an unprecedented package of measures to prop up the economy.

“I sat watching Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s press conferences thinking how vital it was that we had taken those difficult decisions when we did.”

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Of course, he may be trying to reassure himself that cutting away at the state in the decade prior to a pandemic was the right thing to do in hindsight. But he’s wrong.

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As a New Statesman analysis of ten years of data from 2010-2020 shows, the services required to maintain the UK’s resilience amid a pandemic are the very same that were weakened by Cameron’s cuts. As we reported in July: “The cuts were almost perfectly tailored to weaken the state and the public realm.”

These cuts fell heavily on the three sectors at the forefront of the pandemic response: health and social care, education and community services. They were combined with a public sector pay freeze that reduced the real-terms wages of the key workers the country is relying on more than ever, and cuts to the welfare benefits required to help the public through a period of rising unemployment. 

Yet even without studying the statistics about which budgets were cut over the last decade, one simply needs to speak to a teacher, carer, bus driver, doctor, housing officer or anyone else struggling to deliver public services to know austerity stripped back their resources right before the country needed them most.