For a political coalition that is supposedly dedicated to reducing the country's massive public and private debt levels, one can hardly describe the results thus far a resounding success. Rather than diminishing Britain's indebtedness to the international markets, over the past three years David Cameron's and Nick Clegg's motley collection of ministerial chancers, incompetents, crooks and reprobates have not only managed to fatally undermine many of our vital public services, but done so at an even greater cost to the public purse.
Listening to many of the national news broadcasts yesterday, the 1st April 2013, which some have already dubbed the beginning of "Black April", one could have been forgiven for thinking that finally the penny had dropped; and that George Osborne's treasury had finally found a method to significantly reduce the waste and overall cost of our nation's debt, by introducing a small number of highly effective changes to the welfare system that will not only save the overburdened British taxpayer an absolute fortune; but also help reduce our trillion pound national debt.
Although all of the welfare benefit changes are important, the one that has received the most publicity is the "spare room subsidy", or the "bedroom tax", as it has been dubbed by many in the media. This is the coalition's idea for reducing the demand for social housing, by forcing under-occupiers to either vacate their homes, or pay more for the privilege of having spare living capacity in their homes. Of course, the fact that there is and always has been a shortage of single living accommodation within the social housing market has largely been overlooked or ignored by the architects of the scheme. Single person households, the one-bedroom, or "studio" type of apartments, are entirely a feature of modern Britain and certainly weren't catered for during the great council house building booms that took place in the post war period. Many of the single person apartments that do exist are generally held by housing associations or private buy-to-letters, who have begun to recognise the intrinsic financial value of their property holdings and are beginning to charge monthly rents to match the growing demand and diminishing supply.
Several weeks ago, a number of newspapers carried out their own investigations into the likely effects of this new so-called "bedroom tax". The vast majority of these reports lead to the same inevitable conclusion that one of two things would result from its introduction. The first likely outcome was that most under-occupiers, especially those in receipt of housing benefits, would be worse off every week, if they chose to hold onto their homes. The second revelation was that those who chose to move from public to private housing would in fact cost the taxpayer and therefore the treasury more every week, as private rents were often up to 30% more than their publicly owned equivalent, which begs the simple question: how on earth does that represent any sort of saving to the public purse? Even if you assume that most of the people affected by the housing benefit changes choose to remain in their homes and will somehow choose to absorb their housing benefit losses from their own meagre resources, there will still be tens of thousands of people, now and in the future, who will be driven into the much more expensive and highly exploitative private rental market; and where's the social benefit or financial savings in that?
Sadly, the truth of the matter is that very few taxpayer's will benefit from the new "tax", other than those buy-to-let landlords and private landlords who already earn much of their incomes, both declared and undeclared, from the public purse. It is perhaps inevitable that rather than reducing the cost to the public purse, these changes will simply lead to an increase in public spending on welfare benefits, as more social housing tenants are forced to migrate from the public sector to the private one; and if there's no extra money to fund these increased welfare demands then what happens next, an increase in rent arrears, starvation, homelessness, vagrancy, poverty and children being taken into care? And who exactly is going to pay for that?
The second great change that took place yesterday, the beginning of "Black April" was the beginning of the formal demise of Britain's much loved National Health Service, the publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare service, which has been much admired since its foundation in 1948. Gone are the cumbersome Primary Care Trusts and Local Health Authorities, blamed for many of the service's underlying problems; and hello to the new Clinical Commissioning Groups that are supposed to address many of these same issues, run by local doctors and nurses entirely for the benefit of their patients. Well, that's the idea we're all being sold by the Coalition anyway, but as with most things to do with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and their damnable Government, the reality is somewhat different.
In truth, local GP's, hospital doctors and nurses will have very little to do with administering, buying or providing individual healthcare for the millions of people who rely on the National Health Service. Private for-profit management agencies will now largely determine the kind and level of care that people receive; and only after taking into account their own administration costs for providing their management services. Several hundred millions of pounds having been put aside for those essential services, then whatever is left out of the various regional health budgets will be shared between the variety of public and private healthcare providers, including the likes of Virgin Healthcare, Blue Circle, the NHS, et al, often purely on the basis of cost, the pounds, shillings and pence that each individual company quotes for particular procedures, or operations.
Following a successful business model, these private for-profit healthcare companies will almost certainly cherry-pick the most profitable patients, those whose conditions cost the minimum of investment and who can be turned around or dealt with in the least amount of time and money. Complicated, time consuming and expensive patients will be left almost entirely to the seriously degraded rump, or what will be left of the National Health Service, which will struggle to cope with its much more costly and far less profitable patient base.
In all likelihood and perhaps in line with the coalition's undisclosed intentions, a full-scale failure of the existing NHS, with its almost inevitable overstretched services, overworked staff and increasing mortalities will be justification for the introduction of a fully fledged system of privately funded healthcare, of the type operating in the US and elsewhere. However, the fact that tens of millions of Americans are unable to afford basic healthcare treatment, or that hundreds of thousands of them are personally bankrupted each year by meeting the escalating costs of their country's callous for-profit healthcare system, is not a feature of that particular model that its supporters are keen to emphasise. Repeating the proven lie that "private is better than public" proponents of for-profit healthcare companies would have us all believe they are better than the NHS, whereas the evidence of ALL previous privatisations, including telecommunications, transport and utilities would tell us all we need to know about that particular MYTH!. In reality the only people who benefit from the privatisation of any public service, be that health, transport, education, utilities or telecommunications are the SHAREHOLDERS and certainly not us, the customers.
Sadly for the people of the UK, most users of the National Health Service have remained indifferent, ignorant or just completely resigned about the potential loss of their healthcare services, much as they did when free dental and optical provision were slowly but irrevocably withdrawn by various governments. Even though increasing numbers of our population now have very poor oral healthcare and damaged vision, generally because of the exorbitant costs associated with private for-profit treatments, because such ailments are not life threatening in themselves, most people, often the very poorest in our society, simply make do with bad teeth and failing eyesight. The problem is, how will they do that if and when they begin to suffer from more serious ailments, those that can ultimately lead to an early or painful death; and where a free-at-the-point-of-delivery health service no longer exists? After all, if people can't afford to pay for their teeth to be done, or for their eyes to be corrected, then how exactly are they going to pay for more serious, life threatening illnesses to be treated? The obvious answer is that they're not; and like our poorer American cousins, increasing numbers of people are going to end up dead or flat broke.....possibly both!