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This is why millions are angry

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Issue 1681

Dashed hopes on NHS, education, housing, justice…

This is why millions are angry

ONE THOUSAND days of New Labour government, and the promise that “things can only get better” rings increasingly hollow. We look at stories just from the last week which show how Labour is betraying the hopes of working people.

LABOUR’S PROMISES to deliver a decent NHS are in tatters after another week of unnecessary suffering for patients and empty pledges from Blair. Just two of the horror stories were:

  • Jack Barnett of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, had vital surgery on a weakened artery cancelled seven times because of a lack of beds.
  • Pensioner Mary Gray spent almost 57 hours on a trolley as staff tried to find her a bed.

As evidence of NHS underfunding grows, Tony Blair was forced to say that he would make sure British health spending would rise to the European average. But within days he had backtracked and this pledge had become an “aspiration” dependent on how fast the economy grows.


More beds.. More nurses.. Better pay.. Fund the NHS

Hands off Candy Udwin & Dave Carr

Tuesday 8 February, 5.30pm, Middlesex Hospital, Mortimer Street, London W1 (Goodge Street Tube)

Hard Facts

THE government spends 5.7 percent of national income (measured by what economists call gross domestic product) on the NHS. The crude European average is 8 percent. But that is arrived at by treating small countries like Luxembourg with the same importance in the figures as, say, Germany.

If, instead, you take into account the size of countries, the European average is 8.8 percent. For Britain to reach this would take a rise in spending of around 8 percent every year from now until 2006. Even at his most “optimistic” Blair said the rise would be 5 percent a year. In that case it would take 12 years to reach the European average. It would take 25 years to even match Germany’s current spendiing.

Labs in crisis

THOUSANDS OF lives are being put at risk because wages and conditions are so awful for hospital laboratory workers. Mistakes by overstretched staff-leading to misdiagnosis of cancer and HIV-are inevitable. Biomedical scientists are required to have a science honours degree, followed by a minimum of one year further training. Yet their starting salary can be as low as 7,476 a year-about the level of the minimum wage. Many lab scientists qualify for state benefits to top up their pay.

Schools scandal

CAMBRIDGE Education Associates, the private firm brought in by the government to take over education in Islington, north London, is to get even more chances to make profit. It will provide assessors to determine whether teachers are eligible for perfomance related pay. These assessors will be paid up to 375 a day.

  • The government may meet its narrow pledge to hold class sizes for very young children down to 30. But other classes are getting bigger. Nearly a quarter of secondary school classes now have 31 or more pupils.

Still no justice

A YEAR after the Macpherson report into the police’s handling of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Metropolitan Police seem, if anything, to be worse. Last week the force stopped and searched the black Bishop of Stepney, John Sentamu.

The bishop was himself a member of Macpherson’s commission! It is the eighth time the bishop has been stopped under the racist stop and search procedures.

  • Human Rights organisation Amnesty International is to take up three cases where police conduct has been called into question. They are HARRY STANLEY, an unarmed man shot dead by police yards from his home four months ago, ROGER SYLVESTER, who died a year ago after being restrained by police outside his home in Tottenham, north London, and SARAH THOMAS, who died in police custody last year in Stoke Newington, London.

What reform?

THE REPORT into the “reformed” House of Lords which the government commissioned has produced a blueprint for continued anti-democratic power for an elite. The commission, chaired by former Tory minister John Wakeham, said that the maximum number of elected peers would be 195 out of a total of 550-and the number could be as low as 65! The new peers will serve for a 15 year term with no accountability or recall.

Jobs truth

“JOBLESS Figures Tumble”, said the Guardian last week, detailing how the number of people out of work and claiming benefit had fallen by 20,000. Yet the measure which the government says it prefers-the number out of work and looking for a job-actually rose by 11,000 in the three months to November 1999.

  • Thames Water plans to shed 1,000 jobs over the next five years. It also intends to increase shareholders’ dividends by 9 percent this year.
  • Thames recently recruited George Mitchell, the Northern Ireland “peacemaker”, as an international adviser.

Homes handover

LEAKED PAPERS from deputy prime minister John Prescott’s offices this week revealed that New Labour plans an assault on one of the key pillars of the welfare state-council housing. The government has already enthusiastically embraced privatisation, and is on course to hand over 270,000 council homes to private housing companies this year.

Now Prescott is pushing for a “big bang”, aimed at pushing local councils to hand over all three million council homes still under their control. “New Labour is seeking to implement Conservative policies,” says an astonished Lord Hamilton. “I should know. I was Conservative housing minister for just on eight years.” Privatisation will mean less secure tenancies and higher rents. Tenants are already mounting campaigns to stop the transfers. The new assault means more such campaigns will need to be built everywhere.

Arms sales

THE government stunned even some normally loyal supporters with its announcement last week that it will give the go ahead to sell parts for Hawk warplanes to Zimbabwe. The Hawk jets are being used by Zimbabwe in its intervention in the civil war in neighbouring Congo. The arms deal comes on the heels of a similar move to restart arms sales to Indonesia. New Labour figures such as Donald Anderson, chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, denounced the Zimbabwe deal.

Benefit sums

THE GOVERNEMNT has underspent its disability benefits budget by 750 million. This is exactly equal to the amount it claimed was essential to save when it rammed through disability cuts last year. Lorna Reith of the Disability Alliance commented, “They must have known this when they were cutting benefits.”

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