Monday, 27 February 2012

The Personal Credit Crunch

I attended the quarterly management committee of the Citizen Advice Bureau.

It is becoming abundantly clear that the pressure on household budgets is affecting low and middle income families.

The Mendip CAB has seen an increase of 21% in people seeking help and advice since January.

The issues being dealt with are welfare payments up by 31%, Housing problems increasing by 16% and Employment issues rising by 10%.

It is particularly worrying the amount of rent arrears to social landlords increased by 74%, with the average client having £14,000 mortgage arrears, although there is no evidence that financial institutions are foreclosing on mortgages.

The Housing benefit cap seems not to have led to a reduction in rents.

The CAB GP surgery outwork project has gained £400,000 for it's clients by the third quarter of the year.

The current economic situation is seeing more short term less secure employment, that is low paid, there is a lack of affordable housing.

There are more changes to the benefit system coming through in the coming year, changes to working tax credits, the government want affordable rents to be 80% of the private rented sector and if changes are approved in the welfare bill.

The Independent newspapers are reporting that 6 million households are in fuel poverty.

The Press like to characterise the lower to middle income families as benefit cheats yet, 0.8 per cent of benefit spending is overpaid due to fraud, amounting to £1.2 billion, and this proportion is the same as in 2009/10, every penny lost through fraud is too much, yet look at the billions not paid in tax through evasion as a comparison, yet the Press make little of this!

The governments austerity plan has choked off growth, they have reduced income with cuts in benefits and they have failed to control utility bills and their VAT increase to 20%, a tax they denied they'd increase, has further squeezed incomes, this has transferred debt from the government to individuals, banks and financial institutions has hoarded the money given in quantitative easing, but the only people prepared to lend is the payday lenders at interest rates of 2,000%APR. This is a time bomb that will explode in the future.

The growing crisis of housing, employment and income will cause the economy to underperform, it's a self serving prophecy.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Not in the Market for the NHS

In the last year I have realised the importance of the health service, in the early part of last year I had extremely painful Achilles tendons and shin splints, my GP did not refer me to a podiatrist, so I found myself one and paid to get them fixed, thankfully this was successful. Anyone that knows me, knows that since September I have been suffering from exhaustion and not firing on full or even half cylinders, thankfully my GP diagnosed the complaint and now they are trying to get the medication right.

Maybe it's age, but I now know the importance of the National Health Service.

The coalition government are nearing the end of their Health and Social Care Bill, this is an illegitimate piece of legislation, neither the Conservative Party or the liberal democrats promised or mentioned their intention to deliver a top down reorganisation of the NHS. A convenient conclusion from the coalitions discussions.

Health Service provision is a dynamic, health innovation moves at a pace and the NHS has moved and will continue to do so, no one can argue that personalised care in the home and greater specialised services will demand changes in the NHS, but the coalition governments solution of private marketisation seems the wrong treatment and even the wrong diagnosis.

The Commonwealth Fund most recent comparative study of health systems clearly shows that market-based systems, or countries that have a more mixed economy in health, spend more as a proportion of GDP on health than we do on the NHS for a roughly equivalent level of coverage and service quality. This is why the fund regularly judges the NHS to be the most efficient healthcare system in the world.

The reason why the NHS is rated to be efficient is because of careful planning and the collaboration between hospital, doctors and health service professionals. Health cannot be about putting your competitors out of business as capacity is important to deal with the ebbs and flows of disease and health issues.

The NHS is based on the notion that everyone deserves the best medical care, the NHS largely achieves this, in market health services there are greater health inequality of delivery, so the NHS delivers better health care for everyone.

In Shepton under the previous Labour government the private sector opened up a treatment centre, this offered choice for patients, and this was within the planned health provision, the NHS mission should be to continue to show how people can have maximum choice, control and access to responsive services without unpicking the fabric of a planned, national system.

The previous Conservative government privatised the railways and the energy markets, these privatisations failed because these do not offer real choice and the markets are rigged, our NHS cannot be treated in the same way, the coalition governments new duty to promote the "autonomy" of providers breaks that. And in a world where hospitals are fighting for survival, it raises questions about the future of clinical networks and workforce planning.

The NHS enjoys patient satifaction, people reconise the NHS is fair.

The Health and Social Care Bill will deliver a postcode lottery, the service delivered depends on where you live, the government argues the GPs are the best people to judge on their patients health, yet the discussion between doctor and patient are not equal and far from improving patient chances, if implemented, the bill will result in increasing numbers of patients fighting to obtain treatment and care.

There is growing evidence that the NHS are beginning to make cuts to meet the £20billion savings demanded by the government, in Shepton the NHS are reviewing the bed numbers in the community hospital, the town has a fight on our hands to save the in patient service.

So back to where I started, the new commissioning groups, will decide what services they fund, I had to pay £450 to make my legs better, patients will lose choice and the power will be with the GP commisioning groups.

The Health and Social Care bill is a mistake, it replaces collaboration for competition, it could fundlemental change the relationship between doctors and doctors and doctors and patients and it will lead to a worse health service, it's time to Drop the Bill before it's too late.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Creating Political Benefit

True to form the Conservative government is seeking to use the the well trodden 'divide and rule'.

Last week the Welfare Bill was debated in parliament, the disabled and sick have been painted as scroungers, with the Dept of Work and Pension mis representing the facts in their press campaign.

Today we have seen respected national charities speaking out about the mis representation of the facts six leading disability charities have spoken out against the government’s ‘scrounger’ rhetoric on welfare cuts, saying it fuels abuse of disabled people.

The charities speaking out - Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, the National Autistic Society, Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and Disability Alliance - say inflammatory media coverage has played a role in this, they primarily blame ministers and civil servants for repeatedly highlighting the supposed mass abuse of the disability benefits system, much of which is unfounded…

So many of the government welfare reforms will fail to deliver what they want, the potty policy of get a job and lose your council house, or cancer patients only getting disabled benefit for twelve months, as if this arbitrary time can guarantee recovery from this terrible disease.

The benefit cap is a typical right wing political scam, easy politics and seemly popular, housing benefit is a large part of people benefit claim, yet housing benefit paid to private landlords is on average 50% higher than council housing, so the logical argument is to supply more council housing, especially as this account has been making a surplus in recent years.

Instead the Conservative plan is implement a benefit cap, they plan to implement a 80% of local private rent for housing associations, this will increase the housing benefit costs, they are cutting family work credits this makes work pay.

One of David Cameron’s advisers has attacked the government’s controversial welfare reform plans, warning that they could hit the wrong people. Speaking to BBC 5live, his “welfare-to-work Tsar” Emma Harrison said:

“We live in an amazing, civilised country so let’s not hurt the vulnerable. I’m worried about the number of families who will be affected by this…I think we need to be really, really careful we don’t catch the wrong people in these big reforms.”

Last week it was reported that 100,000 families are receiving food parcels as they do not have enough income to feed themselves.

Welfare should be seen as a safety net, not as a life choice, welfare reform should be about getting people back into work, supplying individuals with the skills to get work.

It is worrying youth unemployment is over 1million, yet the need to supply vocational training and quality apprenticeships, yet the government education policies want schools to focus on the English Baccalaureate and devalue vocational subjects, they've abandoned the Educational Maintenance allowance (OECD says this is cost neutral)and cutting of Future Jobs Scheme without the immediate replacement.

This government has many policies that either miss the point or do not achieve the desired objectives.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Vested Interests

Years ago,(before one member one vote) at the time of the Kinnock Hattersley Labour leadership election, I argued at my unions mass meeting that union members should be having individual votes, and the left of British politics needed claim democracy and devolving power to individuals and away from vested interests.

Today, we have seen the vested interests act against the majority interest of the British people; the abuse of the media; abuse by the financial sector; lack of consumer protection.

The British economy is likely to be in recession, it is highly likely that the CONDEM government will borrow more than Labour, £158 billion more than Osbourne stated, youth unemployment over 20%, with unemployment rising and employment falling.

We have seen the banks unwilling to lend money to small to medium size businesses to invest to create wealth. This despite billions of pounds of tax payers money to refinance the banks and £275billion in quanative easing to put liquidity in the banking system.

The CONDEM governments belief that by slashing the public sector this would free up the private sector to grow, this has proved to be mistaken, this with the austerity programme has seen demand shrink in the country, we have seen some export growth but this is now beginning to show signs of weakening.

It is clear the current government has no plan to build a new economy, Labour has to develop a new economic and industrial policy.

Labour focus has to be on the generation of wealth for the many, a focus on changes to the tax system that rewards production and wealth creation and switch to taxing unproductive assets, a tax system that rewards research and development and training of staff.

A National Investment Bank that funds strategic business to create the new industries and innovation.

Government has to tackle rigged markets and create competitive markets where innovation can thrive.

The real challenge is to focus on the real economy, Labour must focus on jobs, wealth and the new economy, with a focus on an active and diverse market and to take on the vested interests that harms this agenda.