Tomorrow I hope to speak at a demonstration in Sheffield against the privatisation of the NHS – although the extremely cold weather may be against us. So I thought I’d put my thoughts online, just in case.
One of the challenges of the last 8 years, since the Conservative coalition began in 2010, is that so many things have been going wrong at the same time, and so it’s extremely hard to keep up with all the many different and growing injustices. Here’s my Top 10 Tory Injustices (it could have easily been a Top 30 or more).
At No. 10 – Increasing poverty
We are told that work is the best way out of poverty – but this a lie. 13.5 million people live in poverty and most are in working families. And we ignore how real poverty is. Currently 6 million people live on £50 a week after tax – that’s £7 a day – to meet all their life costs. The UK is now one of the most unequal developed countries in the world.
No. 9 – Severe cuts to social care
The deepest cuts in Government funding were the savage cuts to local government. Predictably this has created severe cuts to social care – the support we offer children in need, the frail and disabled people. The cuts mean that the numbers receiving social care for adults has been cut by about 50%. Cuts for children’s social care are happening while we put increasing numbers of children in care because of family crisis, abuse and violence.
No. 8 – Appalling treatment of asylum seekers and refugees
The UK has one of the worst international records for welcoming refugees and asylum seekers and if you do arrive in the UK you be placed in what the Government proudly calls a “Hostile Environment” forced to live in poverty, with diminished rights, with many women and children in prison-like immigration centres.
No. 7 – Targeting cuts on disabled people
Since 2010 the group of people who have been targeted the most is disabled people. They’ve faced cuts from every direction – cuts in social care, cuts in benefits and cuts in housing, particularly through the bedroom tax. The government refuses to look at the overall impact of these cuts, but we’ve calculated that people with the most severe disabilities have been targeted for cuts 6 times more severely than the average person.
No. 6 – A vicious benefit system that causes suicide
The benefits system has been made more cruel and heartless. There have been more than 7 million sanctions, for reasons which include attending your Grandmother’s funeral instead of going to the Job Centre. The new Work Capability Assessment is associated with increased stress, mental illness and suicide. The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health reported that these assessments had already caused hundreds of suicides and the numbers continue to grow as these policies remain unchanged.
No. 5 – No housing or inadequate housing
Growing numbers are homeless, rough sleeping has doubled since the Tories took charge, with people now regularly dying on our streets. Those who have a home often cannot afford to heat it – with about 10 million people in fuel poverty. One million home have damp, further worsening people’s health problems.
No. 4 – Malnutrition and the rise of the food-bank
Today, in a country with no famine, plague or war, there are now more than 2,000 food-banks – in 2009 there were 29. Did you ever imagine you’d be living in the land of food-banks? Extreme poverty and the vicious benefit system is now managing to create malnutrition. The numbers of people in hospital because of malnutrition have triple since 2009.
No. 3 – The UK’s human rights record
The UK, originally one of the pioneers of the idea of human rights has now been condemned by 3 separate international committees, established by the United Nations, to help make countries accountable for their international obligations. We have been condemned because – unlike almost every other country in the world – after the financial crisis, where others tried to protect those most in need – the UK targeted these them for cuts. The fact that these reports have barely been reported by the media tells its own sad story.
No. 2 – Increasing death rates
What is the result of all this. It’s not just an abuse of human rights, it means that many of us are now dying sooner than we should. The UK Government is literally killing its own citizens. The British Medical Journal reported that death rates have started to rise – for the first time since World War II – we are not living longer, we’re dying sooner. And there is no natural explanation for this – this is the result of Government policy.
And finally, at No. 1 – Privatising the NHS
About 15% of the NHS is now privatised and the rate of privatisation is growing, with the private sector winning 70% of new contracts. Hand in hand with this are growing measures to decrease eligibility for services, extend waiting lists and reduce the personal, local and community dimensions of healthcare. NHS leaders seem inspired by the USA’s healthcare system – the worst system in the developed world and are abandoning the principles that have made the NHS the best healthcare system in the world.
In many ways it may seem surprising to put the privatisation of the NHS at the top of the list. Many of the other attacks on the welfare state are more severe and cause more direct harm to ordinary people.
But the NHS is the bedrock of our welfare state and it represents the kind of society we want – it’s fair, it’s free, it’s for everyone.
Most importantly, it’s not The NHS – it’s Our NHS.
If we lose the NHS. If it will become Their NHS – the NHS controlled by the rich or an NHS only for the poor – then we will have given up centre-piece of social justice in our country.
We must rally round the NHS. We must make it our El Alamein
We must not only protect it from privatisation but we must also start to turn the tables and begin the fight to restore the principles of justice and equality in our country.