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Fact check: New York Times’ ‘Austerity Britain’ report

28 May 2018

6:19 PM

28 May 2018

6:19 PM

It’s safe to say the New York Times doesn’t take a particularly fond view of Britain these days. Whether it’s their ongoing Brexit coverage, writing up Sajid Javid’s appointment as Home Secretary with the headline ‘a new face won’t cover the British government’s racist heart’, mistaking a newspaper sketch writer’s joke about the French for Brexit bias or attempting to cash in with a $6,000 Brexit tour of… London, the American paper’s gloomy editorial team tend to see the glass as empty – let alone half empty.

So, Mr S was curious to read the latest NYT take on Blighty. On the paper’s front page lies an article titled ‘In Britain, austerity is changing everything’. The author – Peter S Goodman – alleges that the UK is turning away from its European neighbours and starting to resemble America when it comes to ‘shrinking welfare’ and ‘spreading poverty’:

‘After eight years of budget cutting, Britain is looking less like the rest of Europe and more like the United States, with a shrinking welfare state and spreading poverty.’

The evidence? Well, it begins with Prescot – where it seems most public services are being scrapped, as per the intro:

‘PRESCOT, England — A walk through this modest town in the northwest of England amounts to a tour of the casualties of Britain’s age of austerity.

The old library building has been sold and refashioned into a glass-fronted luxury home. The leisure center has been razed, eliminating the public swimming pool. The local museum has receded into town history. The police station has been shuttered.’

Only, as the IEA’s Christopher Snowdon points out, it’s not clear that Prescot is the deserted ghost town that the author makes out:

  1. A new fire and police station was opened this year
    Goodman says that the police station has been shuttered. Was he looking in the right place? In January this year, a new Prescot Police and Fire station was opened:
  2. There is a Prescot library
    The author notes that the ‘old library building has been sold and refashioned into a glass-fronted luxury home’. What they don’t bother to mention is that there is a functioning Prescot library – at least as of May 26th:
  3. There is a Prescot museum
    The author says that the ‘local museum has receded into town history’. Perhaps he could have tried the Prescot Museum for size?

Even the author appears to refrain from suggesting his article is based on objective facts:

What ever will the next instalment bring?

P.S. There is a phrase in journalism, the ‘hatchet job’, whereby a negative narrative is constructed by leaving out rather big facts that threaten that narrative. Of course, the New York Times would never do a hatchet job on a country, so Mr S can only assume that there was no space to make the following points:

1. The jobs boom
The NYT piece paints a picture of economic destitution outside of London, where ‘factories sit empty, broken monuments to another age’. In fact the ‘austerity era’ has involved jobs being created at the fastest rate in British economic history. David Cameron’s record is better than any of his recent predecessors who governed in booms.

2. Incomes of the poorest
Since 2010 – the ‘austerity’ era referred to by Goodman’s article – the incomes of the poorest have risen the highest and the incomes of the best-paid have fallen the most. This is due to government policy that sought to promote jobs over welfare and target tax cuts at the lowest-paid.

3. Income inequality
The increase in the incomes of the poorest means that income inequality is near a 30-year low in the UK. Income inequality might be soaring in the US but in the UK it has barely changed since the early 1990s.

4. Low-paid work
The UK has introduced a £9 minimum wage, amongst the most generous in the developed world. It’s being phased in. But a recent study by the Resolution Foundation conceded that the work already down means that the proportion of workers in low-paid is now at 18pc, the lowest since 1982.

5. Full-time jobs
The NYT talks of a world ‘with itinerant jobs replacing full-time positions and robots substituting for human labour’. Alas, it doesn’t find time to mention that this is actually not the case for Britain where demand for ‘human labour’ stands at an all-time high (75.6 per cent of the workforce is employed) and the majority of jobs created are full-time positions.

6. The elderly
The NYT says that ‘the number of elderly people receiving government-furnished care that enables them to remain in their homes has fallen by roughly a quarter’. No pensioner should have to live in absolute poverty. But the number of pensioners who are stands at an all-time low.

7. Crime
The NYT piece says that ‘nationally, spending on police forces has dropped 17 percent since 2010, while the number of police officers has dropped 14 percent’. But it doesn’t say what happened to crime. The below graph shows surveyed crime since 2010.

8. Disposable income
The NYT piece points to the sluggish wage growth that has affected most mature economies. Alas, it doesn’t find space to say that government policy (ie, more work and tax cuts) has meant disposable household income stands at a record high.

9. Democracy
‘The political architecture of Britain insulates those imposing austerity from the wrath of those on the receiving end,’ says the article. It neglects to say mention the first major outlet for this supposed wrath: the 2015 general election, where the ‘imposers’ of this austerity – the Conservatives – were returned with a majority. Given the small fact that Britain is a democracy, why – if the NYT is correct – are the Tories still in power? Nor does it find time to mention that populist parties, rampant all over Europe, are almost dead in Britain.

10. Slavery
The paper announces that Liverpool ‘enriched itself on human misery. Local shipping companies sent vessels to West Africa, transporting slaves to the American colonies and returning bearing the fruits of bondage — cotton and tobacco, principally.’  This pejorative point is another way of saying: Liverpool was a major port in the 17th and 18th centuries. (And if Liverpool can be damned in such terms for what happened when slavery was legal everywhere, what of the United States, where slavery was legal until as late as 1863?)

Mr S does not suggest that the above points are balanced. Instead, they’re simply a few examples of what has gone right. But without these basic facts, American readers would be at a loss to understand why Britain has not had a revolution. The New York Times appears to have become so hysterical in its British coverage that it is now vying with Russia Today in hyperbole.


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