Saturday, 24 November 2012

Is the UK set to become part of the "post-developed" world?

Britain's politicians and business bosses like to paint our country as a "world leader": a thriving, socially-progressive First World hub of technological  innovation and ruthlessly efficient public services.

But the other day, as I sat at my computer writing a story about the cut to local councils' road maintenance budgets - further reducing their ability to patch up our ever more pockmarked roads - it occurred to me that a new term was needed to describe Britain's socio-economic status.

Just as we use the term "post-industrial" to describe a society that has moved beyond heavy industry and instead employs people to make flat whites and work in "creative design agencies", web start-ups and investment banking, we need a fresh phrase for a country that is dismantling its national health service, savagely cutting social care and even reducing weekly bin collections.

My friend, a fiendishly clever policy wonk (think Data in Star Trek) who works for a local authority, suggested "post-developed de-developing countries," which, while not particularly catchy, captures it quite nicely.

But while my friend and I were being light-hearted, the implications here are far from funny. Think this is just petty scaremongering? What the majority of people don't realise when talking about "the cuts" is that most of them haven't happened yet (as my friend put it: "we've only eaten a polo mint so far, but the main course is on its way").

Plotted on a graph, you can see local authorities budgets plummeting just as service demand from Britain's ageing population is set to sharply spike - and that isn't taking into account the extra demand created by the cuts to services (for example, cuts to adult social care will mean a rise in pensioner hospital admissions).

The satirical news site the Daily Mash ran a story this week headlined: "Britain to probably have some electricity in 2014." The scary thing is, I wouldn't have been that surprised if it had been genuine.

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