As we sit in our upper-class castles or our comfortable middle-class homes egging on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Finance Minister Asad Umar, we should perhaps spare a thought for the most impoverished segments of society, the poorest of the poor. Let prices go up, I’m okay with it because it’s being done for the betterment of our economy you say. It’s okay to lower the education budget or the HEC budget you say. It’s for the good of the economy you say. Those of you who have a degree or a background in Economics might nod and say this is the only way forward. Your neo-liberal learnings allow for budget cuts. After all, you say, is not Theresa May’s government doing the same? If it’s good enough for the UK, its good enough for me!

The problem with this neo-liberal classist form of thinking is that the poor suffer. If one looks at the UK even as an example, the NHS budget cuts have made life very difficult for everyone who relies on state health care. Waiting times are at an all-time high, even in cases of emergencies. Austerity is not the way forward. The government of Pakistan first introduced it by talking about how they would cut spending on their own luxuries only. We’ll fly business instead of first class, we won’t take private planes but rather fly commercial. We won’t live in official state housing such as the Prime Minister house, and a bunch of other lies and U-turns. Some lowering of costs did indeed occur however and there was much applause for this. Then the austerity drive turned on the people. A “mini budget” that makes the cost of living higher. Energy costs were revised, education budgets were slashed, but it’s okay, it’s happening for the good of the economy. My middle-class or upper-class income allows me to continue living my lifestyle so it’s fine. There are seventeen education projects that are rumoured to be axed. These included universities and schools. But hey, I had access to Aitchison College, I had access to the Lahore School of Economics, or my privileged American passport gave me access to quality first world education at a fraction of the cost. So I’m going to support austerity. It’s okay if the poorest of the poor cannot afford to send their children to schools. It’s okay they will be forced to send their children to work instead of study. It does not bother me since I am not in that marginalised income bracket.

Promises were made of a social welfare state. Not of austerity. It’s only temporary you say. It’ll get better later you say. Guess what? The poorest of the poor don’t have till later. Maybe some poor people in the future will benefit, but what of the poor now? Do we just leave them to suffer? After all, we have our heated homes, our guaranteed meals the next day. For this thinking, we are all to blame. We watched government after government cut public spending, often giving the money to other branches of the state for their good will and we said nothing. We should have spoken up then! We should have demanded President Asif Zardari or Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not cut public spending at the expense of the poor. We did no such thing. We watched for decades as governments were building bridges and underpasses for private vehicles but very few for poor pedestrians. We were okay with it because our children were safe in their vehicles while the children of the poor had to dodge traffic. We were okay with there being no awareness of road safety for the poor. We were okay with policies that hurt those who weren’t us. The situation is indeed bleak. However, there is still a chance to reverse this sorry state of affairs. Since these same neo-liberal policies are being pursued by our new government in “Naya Pakistan”, let us demand a real “Naya Pakistan”. A Pakistan where the poor are not overlooked even in the short run. A Pakistan where the interests of the most marginalised segments of society are represented by the state. Prime Minister Imran Khan promised many things. Let us hold him up to that promise and applaud him as he provides us a social welfare state.

 

The writer is pursuing a PhD at the University of Dundee, UK.

@Faisal_Yaqoob_