Budget’s sting in the tail
Blair’s reforms open up market in NHS
“SPECTACULAR” IS how health chiefs greeted Labour’s budget pledge to raise health spending by 6.1 percent a year for the next four years. But Tony Blair immediately tied the money to demands for “modernisation” and “reform”.
He talked of making “tough, painful decisions” when he spoke in parliament last week. He warned health workers, “We rose to your challenge-now rise to ours.” But the new money is not enough to reverse the health crisis. The extra money will bring health spending to 7.6 percent of gross domestic product.
But NHS spending would have to increase in real terms by 9.7 percent a year for five years-a total of 29.2 billion-to meet Blair’s pledge to match the average spending across Europe, according to the King’s Fund. The government’s commitment to stick to Tory spending limits for the first two years is the root of the current crisis. Now Blair has said he wants to use similar methods in the NHS as New Labour has used in education.
Competition, the market and a culture of blaming teachers are destroying comprehensive education. Yet Blair wants to introduce a Commission for Health Improvement to set standards in hospitals-a kind of “Ofsted” for the NHS. This will include sending in hit squads of management teams to “failing” hospitals.
Blair has said, “Nothing is off limits,” and refuses to rule out businessmen and the private sector. Hospitals that “fail” will get some of the new funding withheld. But some hospitals are performing badly because New Labour starved them of funds during its first two years in office. Hospitals struggle, not just because of poor management, but because they are in areas with high levels of deprivation and resulting ill health.
As Lord Winston, who savagely criticised the government’s health policy earlier this year, said last week, “In poor inner cities, because of the background of ill health, outcomes are quite different from what they might be in a good rural area. That sort of issue makes it very difficult to compare trusts. Straightforward league tables will not do.”
Government officials also said that “team bonuses” could be introduced and more money paid if staff accept more flexible working practices. But flexibility has become a byword for long shifts, unsociable hours and constant changes in shift patterns to suit managers. The government’s PFI schemes will decimate healthcare.
PFI means CUTTING hospital beds by 30 percent and SLASHING clinical budgets and staff numbers by 20 percent. It means contracting staff out to private companies who increase workloads while they cut wages and destroy conditions. In such a climate of increased privatisation, contracting out and continuing hospital closures, both patients and health workers will suffer under Blair’s “modern” NHS.
Tax perks for bosses
SOME LABOUR supporters have claimed Gordon Brown’s budget contains some redistribution of wealth. But Brown admitted last week that the poor were not benefiting because “we are redistributing to entrepreneurs.” He talked of “democratising” share ownership. But his changes to capital gains tax will mean handouts to 100,000 of the highest paid fat cats in the country.
“The gains in some cases are going to be bloody colossal,” said Fred Hackworth, director of the Employee Share Ownership Centre. One report described how three internet company directors were “rubbing their hands with glee”. The tax on the 750,000 shares that each of them hold will plummet to just 10 percent in 2002.
Instead the government has bowed to lobbying by giant companies like BP Amoco and British Oxygen. New Labour will hand our money over to them in huge tax breaks.
51% want more
A POLL taken after the budget by the London Evening Standard newspaper found that 51 percent of people were “dissatisfied” with government measures on health and education. The poll found that 62 percent thought the budget was “good only for some”. Some 42 percent thought the budget would make them worse off.
ALMA, a 74 year old pensioner from Northamptonshire, savaged Gordon Brown live on Radio 5 after the budget. Alma told him she was “hopping mad”. She went on, “I have been a Labour supporter all my life but I would not vote for you again.” Alma said she had water charges, council tax and a 120 gas bill to pay, but the pension was still only rising by 75 pence.
She fumed, “Let me finish because I have got a lot to get off my chest. We have a lot of nice women sitting in the Commons now but they don’t speak up for the OAPs. I am really disgusted with this. I have paid national insurance contributions since the 1940s. I am not asking for handouts. I am asking for my money back.”
Schools get less
THE 1 billion Labour has allocated for education brings that spending to an average of 4.6 percent of gross domestic product over this parliament. That is less than the 4.9 percent under John Major’s Tory government.
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