We have heard the word “recession” so many times in the past four years or so that people have started blaming the recession for any kind of problem they might face, be it a job redundancy, the bad weather or the poor quality of Tesco value chicken. As we are constantly bombarded by this word, we have even stopped thinking of all the possible negative outcomes deriving from it, which are not only job losses.
UK government is undertaking drastic measures that would allow to cut expenses in those areas where savings would be less “dramatic”. Among these, defence is one of the targets, according to the most recent directives coming from Downing Street. The point is: what criteria to use for deciding which sector to hit the most and which one the least? The Ministry of Defence is planning to cut a great number of civilian jobs in an attempt to face the credit crisis, with a consequent change in the UK's international role and status in a scenario that will see Britain less involved in military operations and more focused on achieving internal stability. Britain's role in future military missions such as the one in Afghanistan will only be marginal, restricted only to humanitarian missions and peacekeeping activities. The move has caused criticism from part of the British population, including those directly involved in military operations that risk to lose their jobs and be sent home.
Understandably, cutting spending seems to be one of the key solutions to limit the huge public debit that Britain is facing, but it is of fundamental importance to find the best way to do so. This means finding those areas where funding have not been managed properly and that need reviewing, reducing waste of resources and, most important, setting the necessary conditions for creating a sustainable process of improvement for the country. Sustainability should be sought by investing on activities focused on younger generations, providing high-class education as well as research in new technologies which will drive the country out of the recession and towards a better future. The changes in the higher education have caused harsh criticism by many as rising tuition fees will make university accessible only by a small elite of people, predominantly affecting the majority of the population, the middle class: fewer students from abroad will come to the UK to study (something that has characterized UK education in the past, contributing to its success), while British will be forced to leave the country to study somewhere else cheaper.
What about the army? The spending cuts addressed to the defence are quite substantial, with 25,000 civil servants cut by 2015 and further 7,000 by 2020, leading to a total of only 53,000 civilians by then. The figure will therefore be half of the total number of civilians who served the country back in 2005. This follows news of planned cuts which will bring the total number of soldiers to 82,000 by 2020, reducing the army to its smallest size since Victorian times, in an attempt to reduce expenses and be able to afford further investments (£3 billion) in military equipment such as weapons, military watches and new advanced technologies.
The hope is that further recruitment will not be needed in the near future, as this would mean that no wars will take place, even though this seems far from being realistic. However, it would be important to consider how much money has been spent for military operations in recent times: £18 bn for the Afghan war so far (£4bn estimated for the current year), and £260 million estimated for the operations in Libya. If you consider that public spending for education in 2010-11 has been £87 billion, it is a bit shocking to know that the war in Afghanistan is costing more than 20% of the budget for education. I wander what could have been done with those money rather than financing a war. Unfortunately, wars are in most cases unpredictable, but then what about the war in Iraq: was it avoidable? I leave you with this question.