It's not because of Brexit.

Great Britain is devastated: More and more people in the kingdom are dependent on food donations. More than 3000 so-called food banks distribute food to those in need. Baby Banks provide diapers and powdered milk free of charge, Fuel Banks issue vouchers for coin-operated gas and electricity meters, and many warming rooms – Warm Banks – were built in community facilities last winter.

The UK's exit from the EU may act as an accelerant, but the causes of Britain's terrible decline lie in the past. Margaret Thatcher's reforms turned the country on a neoliberal course. And their successors continued in the same way, no matter which party they ran for.

Neoliberal logic

"It's not as if Tony Blair has replaced the Tories with a decidedly ultra-left agenda," says Jörg Schindler, SPIEGEL's UK correspondent in the podcast. "Rather, Blair won the election because he has moved a once quite left-wing Labour Party very strongly to the right. And has certainly adopted something of the neoliberal program of the Tories. And finally, in principle, nothing has changed in this neoliberal logic for decades.


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After the Conservative election victory in 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne launched a harsh austerity programme to combat the country's economic misery. In his memoirs, Cameron wrote: "Ensuring that Britain lives according to its means has been crucial to persuading businesses to invest and giving consumers confidence to spend."

The country was already ailing before Brexit

Social benefits of all kinds have been radically dismantled. The austerity programme, for example, forced Blackpool, a town of about 150,000 inhabitants, to save a billion pounds. As early as 2012, leading economists warned that this program was slowing down the recovery. Then, in 2018, the United Nations published a report that concluded that the austerity program was "mean and hard-hearted," but completely unnecessary in terms of economic policy and had caused great misery. David Cameron describes the program as a success in his biography. They just didn't cut enough.

"And in this respect, it is of course far too short-sighted to say that Brexit has made this country ailing," argued Jörg Schindler. "The country was already dilapidated and that's why there was a majority for Brexit in the first place, because large parts of this country have already lived under such terrible conditions and a lot of people just said: 'I don't care, the main thing is that something is different'. And Brexit then made things even worse.


How differently does the ongoing crisis affect the people of London and the rest of the country? Why hasn't there long been widespread resistance among the population and the media against the inadequate measures taken by politicians? And what are the chances that the government of current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will change the situation?

Jörg Schindler talks about this in this episode of the SPIEGEL foreign podcast Eight Billion.

You can listen to the current episode here: