The argument for economic growth is that we need the wealth generated by it to fund the services we all rely upon, services such as hospitals, GPs, ambulances, schools, and prisons. Even if the economic pie is not cut up fairly, so the argument goes, if it gets bigger so will the size of the slices. Well, the UK’s economy grew by 2% during 2016, and by 2.2% during 2015, yet most of our services are facing a funding crisis. So, who ate all pie?
Health services in most, is not all, parts of the country are currently undergoing a Clinical Services Review. These reviews are being dressed in language that implies that services will be improved. The truth, however, is that services are not receiving the necessary funding from central government and need ‘re-organising’ such that what those services that can be afforded are organised in the most efficient way as possible. But let’s be honest, a cut is still a cut. Calling it a ‘difficult decision’ or an ‘efficiency saving’ doesn’t change anything. And the only possible way that the proposal of Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group to “improve health and care services in Dorset” could be true is if the ‘improvement’ is judged against what the current services will end up looking like if funding continues to fall short.
Last week, the BBC News website reported that the National Audit Office had found that ambulances were finding it “increasingly difficult to cope”; that just one out of the thirteen services were meeting their key target of arriving at life threatening incidents within eight minutes. The main reason cited for this serious decline in service was ambulances being delayed outside over-stretched hospital A&E departments. Surely one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one with a growing economy, can do better than that!
Also last week, one of the national newspapers ran a story about the impending closure or merger of a number of Job Centres. In my opinion the level of service being offered by the Department for Work and Pensions through their Job Centres is already appallingly low, and should be an embarrassment to any civilised society. I have heard people criticise the film I, Daniel Blake as being over the top in its portrayal of the inhuman treatment of its service users. My experience of working with these service users at a local job club only reinforces the impression given by the film. To give just one example: new users have to register on their online Universal Jobmatch. Many of the people we help, for one reason or another, really struggle to use IT and the Internet, but are offered no help by the Job Centre to register and use their own system. And when they make mistakes or lose their user IDs or passwords they are given little or no help to resolve the situation. The frustration felt by the service users is palpable, and the lack of regard by the DWP bordering on the inhuman.
And its not just services that that are directly funded by central government that are buckling under the strain. The former Conservative minister, Ken Clarke, has recently been on the Today programme talking about the crisis in the prison services. Here, the chronic staff shortages and over crowding are, at least in part, due to the part privatisation of the Prison Service – the overriding need for those companies running prisons to make a profit for their shareholders. It has been the policies of both recent Conservative and Labour governments to privatise key sections of our public services in the belief that competition and market forces will provide the solutions to all their problems. This is plainly false. Whilst I would be the last person to say that public services should not be run in an economically robust way, the priority should be the provision of services. You provide the necessary service in as economically efficient manner as possible, not provide the service the necessary profit will allow!
Our economic system is plainly not working for most people. Those at the top of the food chain hardly suffered at all during the 2008 economic crisis. In fact, most continue to get richer no matter what happens. This is plainly not the case for most people in the country. People who live in the ‘post-industrial areas’, areas that have seen their traditional industries and sources of employment die out with little or nothing to replace them, are getting relatively poorer and poorer. Many people in the rural South West are struggling to find employment at anything above the minimum wage yet have to find relatively huge amounts to rent over priced accommodation. Perhaps what’s needed is not for the pie to continuously get bigger, but for it to be cut up more fairly. After all, not only is it unfair that the fat cats have more than they deserve, being that fat is just plain unhealthy. Eating less would be good for the cats and good for the county.