The year was 2015 and David Cameron was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (while yours truly was still a student!). His Government had adopted a policy of austerity following the 2008-09 financial crisis. The idea was to reduce expenses while raising taxes to fund government deficit and to maintain the UK’s status as a welfare state. This resulted in spending cuts for various parts of society - police, road maintenance, libraries, courts and housing assistance for seniors. Everything save ostensible the NHS and education suffered a cut in their funding.
The effectiveness of austerity has been quite controversial with the UN commenting that the austerity measures were “entrenching high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery in one of the richest countries in the world”. The UK Government strongly contested this claim by citing that the number of minors living in “relative poverty” fell by roughly 800,000, to 3.5 million, between 1998 and 2012. However, this number started to rise again after 2012 after the Government introduced the Welfare Reform Act, 2012 which was introduced as part of austerity measures and which included the introduction of Universal Credit, which was universally panned.
On 4 January 2019, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid announced the end of austerity by announcing £13.8 billion of spending in various areas, including police, education and health.
As expected, the austerity programme was deeply unpopular with the masses and this resulted in numerous protest marches across the UK. This project captures one such march.
While emotions were quite charged with lots (People’s Assembly, the group which organised this march suggested almost 250,000 people attended this rally on 20 June 2015). As an immigrant from a third world country where protest marches usually mean angry exchange and serious violence between protesters who usually don’t have much wealth and police, this march was extremely unusual for me. The organisers had promised a “festival atmosphere” and boy did they deliver! It was more carnivalesque than many festivals I had witnessed back home in India. All the colour, the fancy dresses and witty messages made question the seriousness of the march.
While I don’t doubt its intentions, I often wondered if this was the representative population affected by austerity or if it really captured the angst of the public towards austerity.
While I certainly don’t advocate violence as means to resolving such grave systemic issues, I was and still am unsure if such pageantry is the best means to get one’s voice across.
I leave it to you, the viewer, to decide.
At the time of writing (10 April 2020), I work as an economic policy adviser within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy within the UK government. These photos are solely my expression and in no way reflect the opinions of my employer.
Copyright © 2020 Arpan Ganguli - All Rights Reserved.