There is an alternative to the politics of austerity

Far from addressing the cost-of-living crisis, Tory proposals to cut 91,000 jobs in the civil service will worsen the situation.

Workers, including key workers and those occupying frontline roles, are likely to be targeted. Many of those who risked their lives during the pandemic are now facing a loss of their jobs. 

Public services, already under pressure, will be adversely affected with longer waiting lists for passports and driving licences. This proposal is connected with the earlier announcement that various agencies such as the DVLA would be considered for closure or privatisation.

This is a further attack by capital and its representatives on the working class, a mechanism to weaken the public sector and to further the privatisation agenda – an attempt by capital to consolidate class power. It also reopresents continuing confrontation with the trade unions seeking to protect the livelihood of their members.

The continuing erosion of workers’ pay and conditions, cuts to essential services, privatisation, the proposed reduction of taxation on income and an increasing number of direct charges imposed on those least able to pay is all the current social order has to offer.

As we made clear our recent Election Manifesto there is another way.

There is an alternative to the politics of austerity. It is an immediate programme of progressive, publicly funded investment in the public sector and the replacement of the current noxious social system by a new, centrally planned, socialist society as the only way to a better future.

Health tsunami warning

A warning of a pending health tsunami has come from Workers Party representative in Newry and Armagh, Nicola Grant.

The link between poverty, stress and ill health are well documented”, Nicola said

“Newry and Armagh already has the seventh highest number of deaths from circulatory disease There can be no doubt that low pay, precarious employment and rising prices will contribute significantly to those figures. I am seriously concerned about the impact this will have on local people and on our health and care services”, she said.

“In addition to the physical effects, low pay, unemployment and poverty can devastate people’s mental health and wellbeing. We could be facing a devastating and deadly health crisis, placing even more pressure on our already under resourced health and care services”, Nicola warned.

“This can be prevented with investment in secure, well-paid employment, training opportunities, adequate and affordable childcare and the immediate announcement of an energy and fuel allowance scheme”, she said.

“We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the spiralling cost of living, low wage economy and lack of investment in public services are without consequence”, Nicola warned

NHS crisis – a long project

Every newspaper headline, news bulletin and radio phone-in programme in recent weeks has declared that the NHS is in meltdown: that the system is broken and is on the verge of collapse.

What is seldom examined is exactly what the crisis is, how it has been caused and why it will continue under the present system.

Many of the stories of ten-hour trolley waits, backed-up ambulances, bed shortages and of an exhausted workforce are truly horrendous. These are the lived experiences of patients, relatives and staff.

But this, ongoing, crisis hasn’t been caused by the doctors, nurses, carers and support staff who are struggling to deliver the service. While there are particular organisational issues locally which are contributing to lengthy waiting lists, our healthcare problems are political and they are systemic.

From the day the NHS was founded, over 70 years ago, right-wing politicians, many of them close to home, have been orchestrating its downfall and planning to capitalise on, and profit from, our collective health and care needs. The plotting has been relentless and only the strong public support for the concept of a health service free to all at the point of delivery has helped fend off the many attacks and treachery.

Despite the esteem in which the NHS is often held world-wide, UK spending on healthcare is lower than in Finland, Iceland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria. In fact, it is the second lowest, per head of population, of the world’s large developed economies.

Healthcare expenditure based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is also the second lowest of the large economies.

The current crisis has been brought into sharp focus by the demands of dealing with the Covid pandemic but its roots lie in the last ten years of austerity, the cuts to funding, staffing budgets and building maintenance; outsourcing, blatant privatisation of a public service and pay freezes. This is what many in the media refer to as ‘financial pressures’, as if they were part of the latest weather front

This is what many in the media refer to as ‘financial pressures, as if they were part of the latest weather front.

In parallel, the number of nursing and midwifery training places has been decimated since 2010. That led to staff shortages and they were filled by agency staff, supplied by private companies at a cost, just a few years ago, of over £115 million.

In that same decade, the number of hospital beds in Belfast alone, where most of the regional services are provided, were cut by 20%. This occurred during a period when the number older people over 75 rose by 12%. The cost of providing care for this age group, and above, is around three times higher than for the under fifties., Meanwhile, the health inequalities gap continued to grow and the ill health effects associated with areas of social deprivation added significantly to the problems and the pressures.

These are not just statistics. It is estimated that last year 5,000 people in Northern Ireland died while they were on a hospital waiting list. That is what austerity, attacks on the NHS and privatisation by stealth looks like.

The NHS has been under attack since its inception. Those attacks continue unabated today. A right-wing agenda to privatise the lucrative aspects of healthcare, politically motivated cuts to funding, staffing levels and resources and increasing calls on the service, are combining to make us believe that the very concept of a national health service is no longer viable. The additional ravages of Covid are being used to boost that deception.

The NHS is indeed in a crisis. It is being undermined, underfunded and cherrypicked for privatisation.

We owe it to the generations of front-line workers and support staff who have developed and delivered one of the best healthcare services in the world to defend it and their efforts against those who would sell it off to the highest bidder.

For now, a concerted effort will keep the NHS afloat, but only in a socialist society can it be guaranteed to achieve its full potential.