Austerity can go to hell

Austerity measures are everywhere, and the less money you have the harder they are likely to hit you. There’s considerable argument about what governments should or shouldn’t be doing, but I think it’s fair to say that with stagnant economies, heavy national borrowing and stepping in with the banking crisis, something, somewhere was going to have to give, whether that was spending cuts, higher taxation or another type of change.

aus·tere Adjective /ôˈsti(ə)r/

1. Severe or strict in manner, attitude, or appearance: “an austere man with a puritanical outlook”.

2. (of living conditions or a way of life) Having no comforts or luxuries; harsh or ascetic.

aus·ter·i·ty Noun /ôˈsteritē/

1. Sternness or severity of manner or attitude.

2. Extreme plainness and simplicity of style or appearance.

Austerity measures at the macroeconomic level are one thing, but at the household/personal level they can get lost as far as I’m concerned. Why should my everyday life have no comforts, even tiny ones? Why should I become puritanical? I wasn’t ridiculously extravagant in the first place.

One of the main things that troubles me is that so much of what I’ve heard and read in the last few months implies that ordinary individuals should be mucking in and accepting their lot, and somehow feeling guilty at the same time, as though we have all foolishly squandered during the good times and must now take our punishment (whether that’s accepting government measures without questioning or complaining, or taking part in self-flagellation).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really done anything wrong as far as all this business goes. I’ve worked, I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve not spent more than I’ve earned, I’ve not run up unnecessary debts, and I’ve put some money aside for emergencies and for the future. There are millions of people like me in the UK – why should we be swept up in this collective guilt and hand wringing?

Life’s tough enough right now without beating ourselves up on top of everything else. I’m not standing for any more of that authoritarian tutting – it wasn’t me buying the Louboutins and vintage champagne on credit when I didn’t have a hope of paying it back. It wasn’t me loudly pronouncing that I was entitled to things I couldn’t afford and grabbing them accordingly.

The other, linked trend that concerns me is the misty-eyed yearning for the post-war years of the 1940s and 1950s. For starters, the rationing and other measures were the price to pay for resisting the Nazis – not bailing out the banking industry – and the population knew that eventually things would get better. Yes, many of us could learn a few handy tips from that generation about healthy eating on scarce resources, saving up for the things we want, budgeting, making our own entertainment, and recycling and mending. However, old-fashioned money skills aren’t the full story either, you need a whole lot of new skills and resources to get by nowadays.

Don’t let’s fool ourselves into thinking it was some golden age where everything was perfect. It wasn’t. It was a time of ‘knowing your place’, of low aspirations and poor prospects, of widespread domestic violence, of countless women being denied an education beyond the basics, of being shipped off to a home if you were slightly different or shipped off to prison if you were gay, of depression and quiet desperation building up like a pressure cooker under those stiff upper lips. It’s one thing to buy pastel coloured retro-styled kitchen appliances, put on a tea dress and apron and play sexy housewife, but it would be a whole different slice of Victoria sponge to really turn back the clock.

By all means let’s celebrate the human values of invention, imagination, creativity, ingenuity, adaptability and improvisation when faced with adversity. They’re some of the most amazing things about being human, after all. Let’s re-think our personal budgets and manage our affairs accordingly, let’s use every modern method in the book to save, or make, a few quid wherever we can. Feel anxious about the future if you need to, but let’s not feel ashamed and guilty if we haven’t done anything fiscally foolish in the first place, and let’s not hanker after some mythical perfect past.

Making severe household cutbacks doesn’t in itself make anyone a shining beacon of virtue. Spend less if you want, but don’t stop living well on what you do have. To hell with austerity, I’m not buying it.


Similar Posts


  1. Strange thing is, the cutbacks I have had to make have meant that we eat far better than we did as I am always looking for ways to make food go further. Nothing gets wasted. Any left over Sunday lunch now gets made into soups for my weekday lunch (dogs are not too happy but we do have to suffer somewhere, although they get far more pressure cooked bones so that makes up)making bigger amounts at one time means some are frozen so we have home made ready meals. As you say Penny, cut back but don’t miss out!

  2. Hi DaisyMae – we’ve found the same thing here too. Planning ahead for meals has meant more variety and flavour. Perhaps it makes us more creative!

    Penny x

Comments are closed.