Cutting essential services harms those who need them most

Premier Jason Kenney talks an awful lot about how Alberta is struggling, but rarely do we hear him or his ministers talk about the individual Albertans who are struggling and, even if we did, we’d have to take the concern with a grain of salt considering they are implementing austerity policies that are going to make things a whole lot worse for a whole lot of people.

Austerity is when governments attempt to reduce their budget deficits by reducing spending on public services. The problem with austerity is that it has never worked to jumpstart any economy and, in fact, has proven repeatedly to have the opposite effect. Worse, imposing austerity at the wrong time can increase unemployment and trigger a recession. 

Margaret Thatcher, one of the first proponents of austerity as a way to govern, slashed her country’s budget deficit in 1980, causing one of Britain’s worst recessions the following year. Many fear that Kenney’s promise to cut thousands of workers from the public service is going to make Alberta’s economic situation worse than it is.

Economics aside, those workers that Kenney is sending to the unemployment line are actually delivering services to the public. Cuts to essential services lead to real and often harmful effects on the people who rely on them. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2018 linked 120,000 deaths to austerity policies imposed in Britain in 2010. 

United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston noted that austerity brought with it huge growth in food bank usage and homelessness. He also noted high levels of despair, loneliness, and isolation. Britain’s austerity measure led to “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world,” Alston wrote.

Austerity widens the gap between the rich and the rest of us: the wealthy can buy services when the government cuts them; most of us cannot. 

Agencies that serve the homeless, those struggling with addictions, and victims of domestic violence will face increased demands and reduced funding to deal with them. The same holds true for organizations that help vulnerable youth navigate the education system and access training. None of these cuts will create the conditions people need to succeed. In fact, cuts to the public services that serve the most vulnerable can have damaging effects to individuals and end up costing the public far more in the long run.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, as much as 60 per cent of the risk of falling ill can be traced back to what they call the “social determinants of health”. These determinants—poverty, housing, employment, social supports and inclusion, access to justice, and discrimination—all play a huge part in our health and wellness. Making cuts to programs and services that support the people most at risk inevitably raises healthcare costs down the road. 

Yet, the government has introduced a number of changes that will make matters worse for a lot of people, not better. They’ve cancelled planned increases to income support and AISH as well as reduced the money that went into the Alberta Child Benefit and the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit by rolling it into one tax credit and allocating $40 million less per year than the two programs received before they were consolidated. 

The effects of the government’s austerity will be felt the most by those who are least able to absorb the shock and it appears that our government doesn’t comprehend their reality. When it was pointed out that recipients of AISH and income support were going to be unable to travel to get their transit passes because the government switched the payment date from a few days before the end of the month to the 1st or a few days after (for those who receive cheques), the Minister of Community and Social Services suggested on Twitter that they buy this month’s and next month’s transit passes with the benefits received this month. This fails to recognize that recipients won’t receive funding for next month’s transit pass until next month and that means they will have to forego something else like food or paying a bill this month in order to buy that extra transit pass.

For folks who struggle to make it to the end of the month with food in their fridge, she might as well have tweeted, “Let them eat cake!”

The saddest part of all of this is that the pain will be for nothing, unless the government’s goal is to exacerbate income inequality. Because that’s all austerity has ever proven to be good for.

Featured Image: Austerity has been proven to be ineffective. | Pixabay