Written by Rosie Sourbut, OULC Co-Chair HT19.
Last year, 32,500 badgers were shot in England and Wales as part of a programme to curb Bovine Tuberculosis which experts have described as “risky, costly and ineffective” which “flies in the face of scientific evidence”. The badger cull is incredibly expensive. One 2017 operation in Wales had an average cost to the taxpayer of £76,600 per badger killed. When the five badgers were tested for TB post-mortem, each badger’s blood tested negative. For the £383,000 cost of this pointless operation, we could have had 17 more nurses…and five healthy, living badgers.
A wealth of evidence exists suggesting that TB is not directly transmitted to cattle by badgers, and that the process of culling badgers could actually be contributing to its spread. The Zoological Society of London opposes the cull and has raised the concern that culling increases transmission between badgers and can spread the disease to new areas. Leading experts point to the use of badger vaccines as a cheaper and more effective option (the process of vaccinating a badger costs just £200), and the development of a cattle vaccine as a better long-term option, calling the cull a “monstrous” waste of time and money.
It therefore comes as no surprise that this government, caught between cruel ideology and amoral populism (being only consistently irrational), are choosing not to cease but to expand the cull. In September, George Eustice, the Minister of State for Agriculture, announced the cull’s expansion into ten new areas. 42,000 badgers are due to be shot this year. The waste of time and money are not its only monstrous element; footage released in late September shows a caged badger spasming and suffering for a full minute after being shot in the head during a cull.
The public still trusts the Conservatives more than Labour when it comes to the economy, but the badger cull is just one example of cruel Conservative policies that aren’t even cost-effective. The new universal credit system has caused suffering to millions of people, with a quarter of claimants having their payments delayed, and many of those most in need left waiting for more than five months, while many of those receiving payments are left struggling to get by. The new payments system, partially designed by Ian Duncan Smith with the goal of “strengthening the family”, also leaves women in danger. The replacement of child tax credits with a single payment going to a single member of a household traps women in abusive relationships. Research conducted by Women’s Aid shows that 52% of survivors living with their abusers had been prevented from leaving by financial abuse. This policy only increases that power of abusers.
Meanwhile, the National Audit Office has concluded that the Universal Credit system “has not delivered value for money” and that it is “uncertain that it ever will”. Meanwhile, increased tuition fees have left millions of young people starting their adult lives with the psychological and material burden of debts of over £50,000 with extortionate interest rates. It is predicted that 80% of us will never pay this back, and as interest accumulates from the moment we begin our courses, this can almost feel like a comfort. Yet these expensive loans, privately-owned, are likely to end up costing the government far more than they gain. Martin McQuillan aptly explains the ridiculousness of the government borrowing to finance student debt and then selling loans on cheap: “It’s like buying a sofa on HP and off-loading it on eBay to pay the bills.” Young graduates will be burdened with a double tax burden: the graduate tax we must pay to loan companies, and the cost of paying for the government’s mistake.
It is time to stop confusing cruelty with competence. We need evidence-based public policy for the good of all within our society, not the cynical policies inflicted by the Tories: killing badgers, impoverishing claimants, trapping women and burdening young people against all financial evidence, in an attempt to appease farmers, pensioners and the rich while refusing to face up to and provide rational solutions for our social, ecological and financial problems. Britain deserves better.