With a general election just around the corner, we need to think carefully about what has been happening in this country in recent years.

In the early 2000s, Britain had a problem. That problem was startling inequality. According to the Office for National Statistics, the percentage of national wealth owned by the richest one per cent of the population had grown from a glaring 20 per cent in 1996 to a truly shocking 23 per cent in 2002.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, there was another problem - a budget deficit. An obvious solution to the second problem would have been to tax the rich in order to increase government sufficiently. Some of the rich might not even have noticed. But the Conservative government didn’t see things that way. They took another approach - to drive down the deficit by making big cuts to public spending. This has also been known as austerity.

Austerity has been savage. It would be hard to write a list of all the things affected by it, but here are some. According to the National Pensioners Convention, between 2010 and 2016, more than £5 billion was cut from social care budgets, meaning 1.8 million people no longer received care services at home. Over the same period, national spending on local government was halved. A study by The Times suggests that London boroughs have had youth budgets slashed, and that between 2011 and 2018 more than 80 youth centres across the city closed. We can draw our own conclusions about a connection between this and knife crime.

Here in Hertfordshire, 93 per cent of schools have seen cuts to their funding since 2015, totalling a loss of £107.8 million. And then of course there is the state of the NHS. Just this month it was announced that A&E waiting times are the longest in 15 years, and targets for cancer and other treatment are being missed. Clearly the NHS has not been getting the support it needs, with the human consequences that result.

Last year, Philip Alston, the rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights of the United Nations, claimed that 14 million people in Britain, a fifth of the population, lived in poverty, and that 1.5 million were destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. After all, we know about the large growth in the use of food banks.

It may be hard to believe, but this hardship is happening in the fifth richest country in the world. So where is our country’s wealth? That’s an easy question to answer. In 2016, according to Oxfam, the richest one per cent in the country still owned 23 per cent of the wealth. Last year, the Sunday Times Rich List revealed that the 20 richest people in the UK were worth a combined £218.6 billion - yes, that’s billion - and that they had increased their cumulative wealth by £33.5 billion in the previous year alone.

Austerity has been a choice for the Conservatives, not a necessity. Governments are supposed to run countries for the benefit of their people. They should not reduce the quality of life for many while the unbelievably rich get hugely richer.

It’s now election time, and the Conservatives are talking about increasing public spending. However, we should judge them not by what they say they will do, but on what they have done - and we have nine years to look back on.

When we go to place our vote, we must remember the kind of society that they have brought about.

K. Gannon