NHS: Diversionary tactics won’t throw us off
05 Sep 2016It’s no surprise billionaires attack Jeremy Corbyn when it is they who stand to gain from NHS privatisation, writes Diane Abbott MP.
TO PARAPHRASE the late, great Caroline Aherne’s alter ego Mrs Merton, “Why would the billionaire owners of British companies that benefit from privatisation want to attack Jeremy Corbyn who stands for state investment, nationalisation and workers’ rights?”
Even before he was elected back in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters had been subjected to a barrage of criticism, personal abuse and slander.
In recent days we have also had a leading columnist for the FinancialTimes call Corbyn and his supporters “thick as pig shit.” The billionaire tax exiles have joined the attacks.
This is more than the ordinary rough and tumble of political debate. Politics has always been about contending, sometimes sharply opposing, views. But normal rules of journalism, of fact-based criticism and even common civility are suspended in Operation Get Corbyn.
As Jeremy is one of the most decent people there has ever been in British politics, we should not seek psychological or similar explanations for these attacks on him. Instead, there is a material explanation.
In my role as shadow health secretary I am acutely aware that health is to a large extent an economic portfolio. The NHS employs 1.5 million people, mainly women and including very many overseas workers. Its budget is over £116 billion which means that approximately £1 in every six spent by the public sector is spent on the NHS.
We all want better healthcare. The population deserves better. But the pressures of a growing and ageing population mean that the demands on the NHS will only rise over the foreseeable future and in some areas rise quite dramatically.
This in turn requires resources. If we simply accept the status quo at some point funding for the NHS will become unsustainable. Many believe that this is exactly what the Tory Government wants. It is not what I, or Jeremy or Labour wants.
Therefore we have three tasks ahead of us. The first is to secure the proper funding for the NHS. The Tory plan is that over time spending on the NHS will fall as a proportion of GDP. This would be wholly
unfeasible and we will oppose it.
Secondly, we intend to tackle poverty, which is the main determinant of ill-health. Building a million homes, creating one million decent new jobs and introducing a proper living wage will not eradicate poverty.
But they will reverse the trend of rising poverty and lower it significantly. This will have an important impact on the causes of poor health. It will improve well-being as well as reducing the pressures on the NHS and its budget that arise from poverty-related illness.
Thirdly, as resources are scarce it makes sense to reduce waste in the NHS. The biggest waste of all is in payments to the private sector, with a third of all NHS England contracts going to the private sector.
The NHS will waste over £2bn a year on PFI payments for decades to come, and is now wasting £3.6bn a year on agency staffing to fill shortages.
This needs to end.
It is this commitment to working towards eliminating the role of the private sector in the NHS which so bothers the large companies that profit from it. The billionaires that own or head those companies see profits disappearing and are unhappy too with the commitment to renationalise key sectors.
When an economy is growing robustly it is possible to distribute some of the proceeds of growth towards social spending, the NHS and other public goods without disturbing the private sector at all. This redistributive policy allowed Blair and Brown to increase spending on the NHS after 2000 and introduce reforms such as Sure Start.
But this is not the current situation. The economy has barely recovered from the 2008 crisis and may dip again after the Brexit referendum. Now government intervention is required to raise the level of investment and foster a genuine economic recovery.
But the NHS cannot wait until that happens and anyway the growth of demand for health services means nothing short of a boom would do under current arrangements.
So the NHS has to tackle the waste incurred by doling out scarce resources to the private sector.
That is why the rip-off of the NHS has to end, whatever the reaction of the billionaires.
* From https://morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ca42-Diversionary-tactics-wont-throw-us-off#.V82C9DXuq7A