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junior doctors

Junior doctors protest in London, October 2015. Photo: Flickr/Jim Aindow

The roots of the precarious state of our welfare system lie in the Tories' austerity policies, writes Ollie Turnbull

The Humanitarian Coalition defines a humanitarian crisis as ‘an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area.’

Numerous senior Conservative politicians, including the Prime Minister, have been in the media denying the Red Cross’s assessment that the NHS is in a humanitarian crisis. Whilst we in Britain obviously aren't facing what the people of Aleppo or the millions of refugees - still without asylum - are facing, the Conservative party’s austerity agenda has caused a humanitarian crisis in Britain.

Last year the junior doctors, with the support of the consultants and the nurses, were forced for the first time in the NHS’s history; to go on an all-out strike. The Red Cross, The BMA and the health profession in general have been telling us, crying out, that the NHS is underfunded and in a desperate state. At least 20 hospitals are on black alert, 65 hospital trusts have issued emergency alerts, only 1 in 13 ambulance services in the UK have met their 8 minute target, in the week 5th-11th January not a single NHS trust met their four hour A&E target. It is clear that it is the health profession and health charities and not the Conservative government that are correct on this point: the NHS is in a humanitarian crisis.

Social care has been similarly underfunded and consequently decimated. This process has undoubtedly contributed to the crisis in the NHS. Social care workers have also endured years of being ignored. The devastation this causes is immense. At least one million disabled people in Britain are left without social care. This puts intolerable pressure on the NHS and has a large part to play in the humanitarian crisis it currently endures.

Welfare

Underfunding, disguised as ‘necessary austerity measures’, has transformed the welfare system from what it was intended to be – a safety net for the most vulnerable in society – into an agency of conscious cruelty that is forced to comply with arbitrary targets. These targets, which are applied in order to remove disability benefits, bear no relation to the physical condition or to the number of people a particular job centreserves. All it does is take money away from the most vulnerable: from people who have physical disabilities which often prevent them doing everyday things that most of us take for granted. The government is determined to attack these people. The government continues to attack the poorest and pretends to have a conscience.

The sanctions introduced have demoralised and demonised those that need society’s care and protection the most. Individuals have been sanctioned because they’ve missed appointments due to going into premature labour; having a heart attack; or attending a loved one’s funeral. There are lists and lists of these horrendous, inhuman sanctions. The high court has deemed the actions of the government in thousands of cases to be unlawful. Britain is in a humanitarian crisis.

Local Authorities

Local Authorities continue to be hammered by cuts left over from the Cameron-Osborne economic experiment and are due to be hammered further in the coming years. The Tories choose to slash funding for local government whilst also enforcing a freeze on council tax. There has been £18 billion cut from local authority budgets since 2010, with at least another £9.5 billion to come before 2020. This is equivalent to a fifth of spending by England’s 300-plus local authorities, whose budget for running services, from social care to road sweeping, has been reduced at twice the rate of cuts to UK public spending as a whole.Local authority budgets are primarily spent on care for vulnerable adults and child care.This government’s attacks on our public services, welfare and local authorities are devastating attacks on it’s own citizens.

Austerity

Let's be clear what austerity is: a punishment for those who can’t defend themselves to reward the already wealthy. The richest 1,000 families in the UK have seen their wealth doubled since 2010. Corporation tax in Britain is now thelowest in the 20 richest economies in the world.

They then have the nerve to call themselves ‘the party for everyone’, to espouse that they share in the vision of a ‘shared society’, and for their leader to state on the day of her coronation ‘the government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few’.It should be deeply concerning to everyone that our government is getting away with this. It should be deeply concerning that the mainstream commentariat can far too often be heard harking back wistfully to the Cameron administration, describing it as something akin to a great socially liberal progressive chapter in the Conservative party’s history. It wasn’t a great, socially liberal or progressive chapter; it was a systematic failure to rebalance the economy after it spiralled out of control; a systematic dismantling of the public sector; and a consciously cruel attack on the poorest under a rhetoric of ‘The Big Society’.   

The truth is that economic uncertainty was thrust upon us by the richest in society in 2008, when our public services were gambled away by a greedy few, who were then bailed out with our money. The argument that it is necessary to have bailed out the financial sector doesn’t wash. When we live in a country where top executives are now paid around 130 times their average employee, where the richest 1% has as much wealth as the bottom 55%. We live in the 5th richest country in the world. It is a insult to say that the richest don’t have the resources to pay for it. It should be deeply concerning to all that they are getting away with it.

Austerity is a political choice. The anti-austerity campaigners have won the debate. Only a year and a half ago we had a general election with the two main parties campaigning on a pro-austerity stance. The landscape has since been drastically altered. The Labour Party has a tireless anti-austerity campaigner as the leader, while the Tories, under Theresa May, do their very best to avoid even saying the word. In fact, in the most important economic announcement of the May administration, Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement, the word wasn’t mentioned even once. Theresa May’s capitulation to the left, in rhetoric at least, is clear. Firstly her pronouncement of a shared society in which all benefit for the ‘shared’ good; and secondly her speech on the steps of Downing Street on the day of her coronation, in which she devoted the air-time preaching equality for ethnic minorities, gender and economic background, and attacked the ‘privilaged few’. May is reacting to a political reality in which austerity is poison and inequality in society is glaringly grotesque and glaringly unacceptable. The UN has declared the austerity programme in the UK to be in breach of human rights.

The Tories changing leader has miraculously managed to separate the Conservatives from austerity and the damage it has done and is continuing to cause. I hope to see Corbyn attacking May on the grounds that she is willing to be perceived as an advocate for equality, whilst either being unable or unwilling to reverse the devastating and prejudiced austerity measures imposed by the Cameron government.

Solutions

The political and economic solutions are achievable and doable. The funding for healthcare, other public services and welfare can be found in a variety of ways.

First, reverse corporation tax cuts. Second, finally end this charade of huge companies paying little or no taxes, whilst they make huge profits and pay poverty wages. It is often said that this objective is impossible to achieve. It is, however, possible to take some steps. First, end inviting the biggest accountancy firms into the room when writing the laws that they then advise their clients to avoid. Second, the government should make the concept of corporate tax-avoidance absolute poison. Tell the public firmly and loudly that massive companies are stealing vast quantities of money from your hospitals, schools, libraries, social services, transport services and public housing. This would encourage the people to publicly vent their rage and change their buying habits. Companies, focused only on making profit, would under public pressure be forced to change their tax arrangements and engage with government in tightening the loopholes that they (through their accountants ) help to create.

Third, scrap Trident. Trident is a waste of money of epic proportions. Last year, parliament granted government a blank cheque to renew the UK’s nuclear weapon system. CND states that this will cost at least £205 billion. This is a weapon that should never or could never be used; that all but 9 of the 200 or so countries do perfectly well without; and comes at a cost which is a disgraceful insult to those queuing up for hospital beds or suffering at home without the vital care of social services.

Fourth, take all of the funds and resources that are used to track down benefit fraud and use it to investigate and shut down tax havens enjoyed by the wealthiest in Britain. The government willfully ignores this issue. 3,700 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff have been assigned to investigate welfare fraud, while 700 specialise in dealing with the rich. Benefit fraud costs the government £1.3bn a year, according to official statistics, while the gap between tax owed and tax paid is put at £34bn a year by officials. The government is lying when it says it’s doing all it can to tackle tax avoidance. It has created a system that demonises and demoralises the poorest and allows the richest to steal from all of us.

Fifth, raise tax for high earners. During the second world war the income tax rate for high earners was 95%. If the rich had to pay their way during wartime then they should have to in peacetime. The highest rate of income tax is currently 45%. There is plenty of room to increase the highest rate of tax without raising them to wartime levels.

Sixth, borrow. Interest rates are at record lows; economists agree that it is sensible for countries to borrow and invest at this time. Invest money in jobs, hospitals, schools  housing, green energy and infrastructure. This will also ensure a high wage and efficient economy that will increase taxation to the treasury. We must use this opportunity of investment to create a new economy that is not only fairer; but also that is powered by green technology.

There are three things all of us can do. Firstly, maintain and build the social movements by taking to the streets. The anti-austerity campaign has won the argument but the fight isn’t over yet, as Tory austerity continues to descend Britain into crisis. We must remain vigilant, large, loud and coherent in order to give hope to the millions whose lives are being wilfully torn to pieces by a government that has a precariously small majority in parliament and can and should be taken down.

Second, vote for Jeremy Corbyn. It is important to grab this opportunity to appoint to Downing Street someone with almost four decades of consistent campaigning for equality and peace; someone who speaks with genuine honesty and has a track record that is principled and demonstrates dedication to the people of Great Britain.

Third, if Corbyn was to become Prime Minister, build the social movements like never before. Corbyn as PM would face a fight back from the across the agencies of the establishment in order to halt the implementation of socialist policies as much as possible. In this situation, a mass support of 21st century socialism on the streets will be essential. The social movements of Corbyn’s political background would have to have an important role in defending him against the vested interests of the elites, who would surely bring all of their might down upon him and therefore the people that would have voted for him.

The country is in a humanitarian crisis but we have answers. Elect leaders that do, that are conscientious, not leaders that pretend to be. It’s clear what we want our politicians to do. We need to finally have leaders who either want to do the same and who deliver or, if our system doesn’t allow them to do it, to have the courage to admit they don’t have the power to do it. It’s time to admit the NHS and Britain are in a humanitarian crisis.

The time to fight for our NHS is now. Join us for the national demonstration in defence of our health service on the 4th March, assembling at 12pm on Tavistock Square.

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