By Carolyn Thomas

MS for North Wales

As we head towards the Spring, we are approaching both a UK General Election and the fourteenth consecutive year of Conservative government in Westminster. In those fourteen years, I ask, has anything got better?

The last decade and a half have been characterised by austerity and vicious cuts to public services, with the few services that have survived closure or privatisation teetering on the brink of collapse due to underfunding.

There is little doubt that the UK is a far poorer country as a direct result of austerity policies. Even many of the economists who, after the 2008 global economic crash, suggested cuts were the only option, now accept that this was an incorrect diagnosis which brought with it deadly consequences. Health, education, public transport, welfare, local authority budgets, arts, culture – all were led like lambs to the slaughter to be sacrificed on the altar of austerity.

The results of the past fourteen years are impossible to escape: the worst fall in living standards since records began, real terms wage cuts for workers, the NHS on its knees, a demoralised public sector workforce, a housing market which is completely out of control, and more food banks than branches of McDonalds.

Local authorities are now presenting as the latest crisis symptom caused by this deliberate underfunding, with multiple councils declaring bankruptcy and many more considering it. For solvent councils, they face another round of having to do more with less. As their budgets shrink in real terms, it becomes increasingly difficult to offer any services outside essential ones such as social care, education, and waste collection. Covering even these essentials adequately is now becoming an impossible task for many councils across the UK.

And of course, because of the continually shrinking real terms funding from central government, this means that Councils have no option but to pass the burden onto residents via Council Tax increases, which in turn means residents are having to pay more for less.

I, like millions of people across the country, have always opposed austerity. It is economically illiterate to cut vital public services as many act as economic multipliers. For example, research shows that for every £1 invested into the National Health Service, at least an extra £4 is created in the economy via having a healthier population. A well-educated population acts in much the same way; hence why cutting education budgets is counterproductive.

For years and years now, we’ve been sold the idea by Westminster politicians that austerity has been the only option. That instead of investing in our nations’ future, in our communities, in our infrastructure, and in our economy, we should instead allow all of those things to wither away.

But after fourteen years of that doomed ideological experiment, it is now clearer than ever that we were sold nothing but a myth – and one with devastating consequences for our country.