Socialist Worker

Blair wants us to pay for NHS care

Issue No. 1841

THE DRIVE to war has caused many people to demand that Tony Blair should go. But there are many other reasons why he should be toppled. Blair is also leading a war against workers in Britain. Outrageously this week Blair suggested that people might have to pay to use vital public services.

He said his government was looking at new ways of charging NHS patients and parents of school children. He called for 'new forms of co-payment in the public sector'. This is an assault on the whole foundations of the welfare state. If pushed through, the result would be a two-tier system in every level of our hospitals and schools.

Patients with no money will be lucky to get a bed and basic care, while the rich will be able to afford to buy the best hospitals, doctors and treatment. The children of the rich will get the best teachers and resources thrown at them, with all the best extra-curricular activities, while the children of the poor will be stuck learning by rote in sink schools.

Former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson responded with outrage to the plans: 'Talk of co-payment - in other words, charges, fees and perhaps vouchers - cannot possibly do anything other than discriminate in favour of the well informed and well off.'

The debate shows the real issues underlying the argument this week over 'foundation hospitals'. This means a group of elite hospitals and a two-tier system.


The parasites who rip us off

A REPORT was released last week about 300 people in Britain who live a life of luxury on a pile of cash worth £115 billion. They are not refugees. The 300 are Britain's richest, detailed in the Mail on Sunday.

Their combined wealth jumped by 5 percent last year. They include the Duke of Westminster, whose wealth increased by £260 million to £4.3 billion. Yet the newspapers howled on page after page last week about the rise in the number of refugees in Britain, branding them scroungers. The number of refugees from Iraq has doubled. The number from Zimbabwe has tripled.

The same newspapers which now seek to scapegoat refugees have reported at length the persecution, threat of war and civil unrest in these two countries.


McGowans were right

THE McGOWAN family last week claimed vindication for their three year long fight to discover the truth behind the deaths of two black men, Jason and Errol, found hanged in Telford. An inquest jury in the Shropshire town rejected the police's conclusion that the death of Jason McGowan on New Year's Day 2000 was suicide. Instead the jury returned an 'open' verdict.

This was the best option available after the coroner had refused to allow the jury to even consider a verdict of 'unlawful killing'. The coroner's move infuriated the family, but they were jubilant that the jury clearly rejected the police conclusion.

'We're delighted with the verdict,' Clifton McGowan, Jason's uncle and Errol's brother, told Socialist Worker. 'The jury took over ten hours to come up with their decision, which shows they looked in depth at the police's failure to carry out a proper investigation into Jason's death. It shows our campaign has been right - without it we wouldn't have got anything like this. The verdict gives us more strength to fight on for justice for Errol and Jason.'


'More houses' will mean less houses

THE HOUSING crisis gripping Britain was made worse by a shock government announcement last week. The move effectively sank plans to build thousands of affordable homes. The government scrapped a housing grant to local councils worth £1.3 billion over the next two years.

As a result at least 14,000 planned homes may now never be built. Flagship projects could be scrapped in areas where many people are priced out of buying a home . It is all but impossible for local councils to build homes themselves because of years of Tory and New Labour restrictions.

Councils have been able to direct some of the grant they get from central government into 'social' housing schemes run by housing associations. That grant has produced around 53,000 homes since 1996. Now the government has given just seven weeks notice that the grant will be scrapped.

The move is part of a reorganisation of housing finance linked to the 'Communities Plan' announced amid much fanfare recently by deputy prime minister John Prescott.


Bosses use blackmail to push cuts in wages

BOSSES IN some of Britain's best-known companies are slashing workers' wages. They are blackmailing workers, telling them that payouts from company pension schemes will slump unless they accept pay cuts. Among the worst offenders are Tony Blair's friends in the super-rich Sainsbury family, which owns the giant supermarket chain.

The family is worth £1.68 billion and Lord David Sainsbury is the science minister in Blair's government. Sainsbury's is demanding that workers increase their contributions to the pension fund from 4.25 percent of their wages to 7 percent. That is a wage cut of 2.75 percent.

This attempt at barefaced robbery is even more breathtaking after Sainsbury's spent 15 years taking a 'holiday' from paying into pension schemes. In the 1990s booming stockmarkets meant that many pension funds had a huge surplus.

Bosses took advantage by simply not putting employers' contributions into the schemes for several years. Figures calculated this week show that in the three years between 1994-5 and 1996-7 employers pocketed £2.5 billion through this method. But now that shares have fallen and pension funds are stretched, management demand workers pay the price.

BAE Systems is demanding that 57,000 workers pay up to £20 a week more or face pension cuts. The workers' TGWU union has threatened strikes. Workers at the RAC motor rescue company are being told to pay an extra 4 percent into the pension scheme.

Some 15,000 workers at Centrica, which owns both the Automobile Association and British Gas, are to pay 1 percent more of their salaries into the pension scheme. Union leaders should be telling employers where to get off and refusing wage cuts.


Schools find their funds are squeezed

THE government promised the 'biggest sustained increase to education spending for a generation'. That's certainly not how it feels in many areas as hundreds of teachers and support staff face redundancy because of shortfalls in council budgets.

A front page report by the reputable Times Educational Supplement tells of cases like Plymouth, where head teachers are warning that 100 teachers' jobs and 200 classroom assistants' jobs could go.

Schools in areas from Leicestershire to Essex, and London boroughs such as Bromley too, all report that they could be set to axe school jobs. David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT head teachers' union, says the problem appears to be 'fairly widespread'.

'The government's statement that all schools are going to benefit from the extra funding in the system this year is simply not true.'


Students get short measure

EDUCATION secretary Charles Clarke revealed this week that most of the future expansion in university places will be on 'employer-led' two-year courses. These will be 'competitively priced' so that students opt for them rather than expensive traditional degrees.

Employers will say what sort of workers they want and colleges will seek to fit their requirements. Meanwhile those with the cash can still do the sort of degree that will be a passport to higher earnings.


Future crashes for aero workers

ROLLS-ROYCE, the aero-engine maker, is to cut another 1,100 jobs. The latest cuts follow over 3,000 jobs axed by the firm just over a year ago. Workers at the firm's plants in Bristol, Derby and Hucknall, near Nottingham, will bear the brunt of the new cuts.

Rolls-Royce is the world's second biggest aircraft engine maker and was expected to announce profits over £240 million this week.


War costs even more than blood

THE GOVERNMENT has secretly written cheques for £33 million to firms which supplied arms to Iraq in the 1980s. The official Export Credit Guarantee Department admitted last week that the money was paid out to cover losses the firms made on the arms deals.

Among those paid out of public money were arms makers Racal, Thorn-EMI and Marconi. The money could have paid for 12 new schools. In all, Tory and New Labour governments have handed over a total of £1 billion to firms to subsidise arms exports to Iraq in the 1980s. That could have built eight fully equipped hospitals.

And now the government is prepared to spend at a minimum the money that could pay for 1,248 schools or 28 hospitals on a war against the same Iraq it paid British firms to supply arms to.


Nuke safety is still ignored

THE SAFETY of Britain's nuclear industry has been damned by an internal report by a director of nuclear generator British Energy.

The report by director John Moares says, 'Society demands that we do all in our power to protect the workforce, the public and the environment. 'And yet against this background we find that nuclear safety-related equipment's reliability and availability is not tracked. System health checks are not conducted effectively. The nuclear safety significance of the maintenance backlog is not assessed.'


Heavy bill on your doormat

MILLIONS OF workers in Britain face a cut in living standards as new council tax bills are set across the country. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy suggests that average bills will rise by 6.9 percent.

The figure is almost three times inflation, and much more that the percentage pay rises most workers will get. In many areas council tax rises could be even higher.


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News
Sat 8 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1841
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