Monday, 20 October 2014

Coalition cuts endangering lives

Recent headlines about the suicides of people so depressed by the thought of living in poverty and despair any longer, deprived of the support their particular condition previously warranted, have shocked and saddened millions, and the Bedroom Tax is now seen not only as a Tory mistake but an electoral millstone. The truth is, however, that the full effects of this Tory-dominated government`s cuts are not being publicised nearly enough, with the danger to all of us of another Tory government shrinking the state back to 1948 levels largely being ignored by the media, and by the Labour party. Such dangers should form a cornerstone of the party`s offensive in the run-up to the election. Many examples exist, and three will be examined more closely here.
       The damage being done to the NHS by the government`s policies of dismantling, outsourcing and increasing "competition" is obvious as is the danger to the health, and even lives, of thousands of people. Lengthening waiting times and delays in ambulances and referrals are featuring already, despite government claims to the contrary, but imagining what a fully privatised health service would be like, if a Tory government was elected, is not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, it has to be done, and the public has to be made aware that "free care at the point of delivery" is not a principle Tories support. Luciana Berger has recently reported how self harm and suicide attempts in 29 of the NHS mental health trusts has increased by 56% between 2010 and 2013. News that party rebels aim to pressure the Lib Dem leaders to back a repeal of the NHS reforms should not deter Labour leaders, merely remind them that the reforms would not have reached the statute books without duplicitous Lib Dem support.
      Worrying news, too, on the food front, with the official report into the causes of the horsemeat scandal being shelved, encouraging the view that government cuts are having damaging effects on the inspection and enforcement of food safety standards. The Guardian newspaper has been informed that publication of the report would "frighten the public that criminals were still able to interfere with their food".(Guardian,16/08/14) The adulteration of burgers, mince and ready meals with horsemeat "on an industrial scale" happened because of the lack of regulation, making the food industry a "soft touch" for criminals. By stripping the Food Standards Agency of overall responsibility for the integrity of food, and introducing elements of self-regulation, the government must take responsibility, too, for the recent scare over the contamination of chickens with the food-poisoning bug, campylobacter. Such lack of consumer protection is scandalous, and again, Labour should be making an almighty fuss to get things changed. No matter how big the deficit will still be in 2015, Labour leaders should be committing their government to increased regulation to guarantee food safety.It`s again clear that this is not a priority of this Tory-led coalition
    A third example which receives insufficient publicity from a compliant media, but which also reveals the callous nature of this government, and, indeed, of the two parties responsible for the joint policies, is the state of our prisons. With 18 being closed, cuts in the region of 30% to prison staffing levels, and the number of inmates rising to just under 86,000, is it any wonder the Chief Inspector for Prisons recently went public on his concerns? It is not only his view that there can be little doubt over the link between government policy and the rise in prison suicides: in the year up to last March, there were 88, up from 52 in the preceding year, with self-harm increasing to 23,478 cases.The most recent calculation suggests an increase in prison suicides in one year of 64%! Often prisoners are locked in their shared cells with one chair and unscreened toilet for 23 hours a day, leaving no time for education, exercise or even showers. Handing over responsibilty for many prisons to private companies with, to say the least, dubious records, like Serco and G4S, only exacerbate problems.
   Prisons, of course, are yet another example where cutting costs not only leads to no solutions, neither long or short term, but increases  problems, and ends up reducing regulation and endangering lives. Labour has to accept this, and devise its strategy accordingly. Miliband, Burnham, Sadiq Khan and the rest must attack the government`s appalling record on the NHS, food safety and prison service, but they can do more. Reducing the state`s involvement to 1948 levels, the Tories` stated aim, would take the country back to standards of public service and safety totally unacceptable in the 21st century, and the electorate needs to be told loudly and clearly that fact. Too many lives are being endangered already!

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