We need a contingency plan against inequality

kerenWhen New Start asked me to write about hopes and fears for 2015 with the backdrop of a general election, the economy tanking and environmental crises, I realised I hadn’t worried about any of those things. This year my fears have been closer to home because of two bereavements and the near loss of one of my best friends. Given this, what I’m most worried about is the NHS.

I’ve written elsewhere for New Start about the death of my boss Stephen Hewitt, but I didn’t mention the way that most of his treatment was carried out at home. Isn’t this an astonishing thing to be able to ask for, no matter what your status or wealth?

A couple of days after Stephen died my family sat at the hospital bedside of my step-father as he came to the end of his life. We never left him for those three days and I witnessed amazingly tender care from the nurses. Although he wasn’t conscious they treated him with dignity and respect and talked to him gently and reassuringly throughout.

Even though we were with her, the nurses looked after my 82 year old mother as if she were their own, making tea and toast, coaxing her to eat and take breaks in a comfortable family room. I saw nurses with tears in their eyes as they looked after my step-dad and one even kissed him goodbye after he died. I cannot describe the comfort they gave us.

My brother-in-law, who was given 6-12 months to live with liver cancer, received a liver transplant a couple of months ago. He’s doing well and is looking forward to a long life ahead.

The thing I fear most for 2015 is the

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

During the summer one of my closest friends suffered a brain haemorrhage. She is in her forties and, until then was as fit as a fiddle. The bleed was so huge that she was given only a 20% chance of survival, with a potentially grim prognosis should she live. Within hours she was operated on, but the family was warned that she would probably not survive. Thankfully she did.

What followed was months of intensive care in hospital and specialist therapy in a brain injury unit. She finally came home in September and is fit and well again and can’t wait to get back to her job in a children’s home. To me she is a walking miracle, but really she’s a testament to the skill and dedication of NHS workers. She is part of an international online community and the first thing her American friends did was set up a fund to pay for treatment. They were informed it wasn’t necessary, that it’s all free when you need it in the UK. We need to protect that.

Therefore the thing I fear most for 2015 is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The government is secretive about its behind-the-scenes negotiations because the TTIP carries a raft of undemocratic horrors, not least further and irreversible privatisation of the NHS. There will be no referendum to ask us if we want huge international corporations having more power than governments, but there is a growing movement to expose and fight against what the TTIP will do to the UK and Europe.

The other thing New Start asked for was 5 things I’d do to make things better in 2015.

  1. A contingency plan against gross inequality, namely Inequality Indexation or a pre-agreed law that says that if inequality reaches a certain point then we will raise taxes by formula, automatically, with no further debate in parliament. If it’s already in place it prevents those with lobbying power stopping it happening when the crisis hits. It’s a constitutional declaration that we will not become a grotesquely unequal society. This is not my idea, if it was I’d be the recipient of a Nobel Prize for economics like professor Robert Shiller, from whom I half-inched it.
  1. We will build a minimum of 100,000 COUNCIL houses per year. This doesn’t need explaining, it’s blindingly bleeding obvious.
  1. All rent will be 10% of income. And I mean all: private, council, social housing – whatever. If private landlords don’t like it then they can sell their properties and help to correct ridiculously overpriced housing. This will boost the economy as the poorest in society spend will spend much more of their income on goods and services.
  1. It will be illegal to profit from social care. All care homes, regardless of type, will be run by the public sector. For banks, financial institutions and offshore investment companies to be making money from the care of the vulnerable is immoral and leads to poor standards as profit is the driver not care. All care provision will have visible and short lines of accountability – i.e. back to local councillors.
  1. No one who has been an intern with a political party, a special advisor, or who has a degree in Philosophy Politics and Economics will be allowed to be an MP. These activities will be regarded as being declared criminally insane and will carry an automatic bar to standing for election. In addition all MPs will live and work for a minimum of 5 years in their constituency prior to standing. All ministers will have worked as a paid employee for a minimum of 5 years in the field of their ministerial office.

Don’t get me started!


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9 years ago

I know it’s a popular line to say that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a terrible thing that will result in the “irreversible” privatisation of the NHS. And, of course, we frame this line by using a story about how Americans have to pay for health care unlike us fortunate Brits.

Whatever we think about the TTIP there are some errors here that need correcting – assuming that New Start prefers accurate facts to polemic that is…

Firstly it isn’t the UK government negotiating the TTIP – trade deals, relationships and so forth are one of the things we handed over to the European Union. So when Keren say “(t)he government is secretive about its behind-the-scenes negotiations” it would be better phrased as ‘the EU’ – although she’s probably a big EU fan and thinks people who doubt its value are racist little Englanders.

Next the decision as to whether to commission NHS services from non-NHS organisations (in the broadest sense the ‘private sector’) has no relationship to how this is paid for. If the NHS buys 500 knee operations from the private sector, we (the public) still get those operations free at the point of need – or rather paid for by taxation – and there is no prospect of the TTIP resulting in us having to pay up front for those services. Health is still a competence on National governments – the EU cannot negotiate any arrangements that change the way in which the UK government chooses to fund health care.

Thirdly the government and the NHS will retain the ability to change the basis of commissioning – we could choose to provide all commissioned services in-house, for example. Again the TTIP would not require government to outsource, it would merely require that, where outsourcing is the government’s strategy US, Canadian and Mexican companies will have the same opportunity to pitch for that work as do European companies. It is entirely misleading to say that outsourcing is ‘irreversible’ when it would be no more or less reversible than is the case under current OJEU regulations

Finally the TTIP doesn’t represent a shift of power to big corporations (that shift has already happened – TTIP would widen the pool of big corporations no introduce such a pool).

In summary – my wishes for 2015 is that people understand things before that write about them and that we finally get a sensible conversation about health and social care that isn’t dominated by lies, slogans and accusing the ‘other side’ of doing things that they aren’t doing. I am pretty sure I will be disappointed.

jeannie Buckingham
jeannie Buckingham
9 years ago

Read this article by Colin Crouch.
TTIP is a cause for huge concern. We have no transparency or debate. We need to fully understand the potential implications.

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