Monthly Archives: January 2016

On Aberdeen, oil and food banks

Pylon_dsUnusually, I made it all the way through Saturday’s Guardian, into the money section, where this headline caught my eye:

Aberdeen: once-rich oil city now relying on food banks

The story brings together two issues I’ve dealt with regularly on this blog, and seemed to illustrate the failure of government to make any attempt to address either.

I first wrote about the need to move money out of fossil fuels nearly two years ago. We invest in pensions to provide for a healthy and happy future. It is, therefore, pointless for pension funds to put money into businesses which are leading to detrimental and devastating climate change. Since then, investment in fossil fuels has come to be seen as more and more risky, as we have recognised that in order to secure our future, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Not a strong foundation for ongoing long-term business success.

The collapse of the oil industry in Aberdeen has come sooner than any collapse due divestment and the risks of climate change. In this case, the falling price of oil simply makes North Sea Oil too expensive, although doubts about the wisdom of burning all this oil have had a small part to play in all this. But, whatever the reason, now is surely the time for Aberdeen to diversify and invest in technology and industry which is better for the future, in particular the renewable energy sector. Recent moves by the government, however, have all been about reducing support for the renewable industry, binding ourselves to the Chinese for nuclear power and putting faith in fracking.

Meanwhile, people are losing their jobs, or having their pay cut, or having to work longer hours to make up the money. And we have created a society where those who suddenly find themselves out of work or out of pocket no longer have the security of a social safety net. State provided social security has dwindled to the extent that people are having to rely on food banks. Whether you think this is a good thing or not, I don’t recall the social consensus shifting so far that we have consented to abandon anyone who falls on hard times or who cannot support themselves or their families for whatever reason.

The state is no longer providing for the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Nor, it seems, is it providing for “hard-working families” who are suddenly unable to work. And at the same time as it continues to make cuts to payments to those in need, the government fails to acknowledge that it is no longer meeting basic needs.

How did we let this happen? Why did we let this happen? Are we ready to abandon the post-war consensus that all should contribute according to their means to support all according to their need? That’s what our taxes are for. For the most part, we are all trying to contribute according to our means, while the support for those in need is steadily cut back. At the same time, those with the biggest means to contribute are also most able to find the best way to reduce their contribution – both individuals and corporations. Why aren’t we angrier?

One final thought. 13 people are facing jail for demonstrating against a third runway at Heathrow. Their defence was that their actions were necessary in order to prevent deaths caused by pollution and climate change. But their defence was rejected and it looks like their civil disobedience will see them get custodial sentences. Their actions should be a wake-up call to us all. For as the New Internationalist blog pages observe, It’s not civil disobedience we need to worry about though, but our civil obedience. I’ll leave you with more of that quote from Howard Zinn, which I found here.

Civil disobedience…that is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.



24/7 Smokescreen

doctorstrikeI’m backing the Junior Doctors’ strike all the way. Not least because being able to withdraw one’s labour is a vital part of our democracy and protection for workers against exploitation.

Yes, even doctors should have the right to withdraw their labour. They continued to cover emergency care. Senior doctors (consultants) stepped in to fill in the gaps and make sure patient care wasn’t compromised. Patient safety was never at risk. Yes, there was some disruption as clinics and operations were put off for another day. But quite frankly, that’s the point. Strikes are meant to be disruptive, otherwise there is no point in having them.

But mostly I’m supporting the strike because the government is deliberately and systematically undermining the NHS for its own ends. Its rhetoric about improving care and developing the 24/7 NHS is a complete red herring. Or total bollocks if you don’t mind me being less polite.

The government isn’t interested in improving patient care, only in saving money. We already have a 24/7 NHS. Nurses are on the wards all day every day. Perhaps there aren’t enough nurses. The scandal at the Mid Staffs hospitals led to an independent review to establish how many nurses is enough, but now this programme has been stopped.

Doctors are also on the wards all day every day. Shift patterns, rotas and on call may vary at night and at weekends, but doctors are there. Is the new contract accompanied by a plan to employ more junior doctors, so that more doctors are available? No, don’t be silly! The same number of doctors will be spread more thinly across the week because mostly they sit and twiddle their thumbs Monday to Friday.

But apparently it is possible to run a truly 24/7 NHS only with doctors and nurses. Because as yet I have heard no discussion at all about increasing the numbers or working patterns of anyone else who makes the NHS work. Despite suggesting he wants the NHS to offer the same services on Saturdays and Sundays as well as during the week, it seems that this will happen without any extra services being supplied by speech therapists, physiotherapist, occupational therapists, dietitians, clinical psychologists, pharmacists, radiographers, theatre staff, porters, phlebotomists etc etc etc. The list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left people out – please add your own profession in the comments if it’s you, sorry!

The media is fond of scare stories about our hospitals, and the Tories seem determined to blame the doctors. Targets for waits in A&E to be less than four hours are now way off being met. But this fuss over the junior doctors’ new contract is a smoke screen, and doctors are the scapegoat. The government isn’t really interested in making it better, because that will cost money. Jeremy Hunt might like to tell you that the Tories are investing more money in the NHS, but apart from being a trick with the figures, it is putting small amounts of money in at one end and taking vast amounts out at the other.

Why do patients have to wait for more than four hours in A&E? Why do people have to wait for operations or have them cancelled at short notice? Mostly, this is because there are not enough beds. Why are there not enough beds? Because they are already occupied, often by well people. People who are no longer sick enough to need to be in hospital, but are not well enough to go back to the circumstances they were living in before. People who need extra support at home, or a place in a residential home, or other form of social care. But they can’t go home because this care isn’t available or isn’t ready or takes too long to organise. Who supplies and pays for this kind of care? Mostly, local councils. And which area of government spending has seen the most dramatic and devastating cuts since the Conservatives came to power? Yes, local councils!

So I don’t believe for one minute that this dispute is between two groups of people who both genuinely believe they want the best for patient care and the future of the NHS. One side talks about a 24/7 NHS but has no intention of doing what it takes to look after the NHS. The other side is already delivering it.