IT SEEMS we are in for swingeing cuts in public spending, whoever wins the next general election but there is a gap opening up between Labour and Tory promises. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson are talking about “tough choices” and “wise spending” but are saying they will not cut too harshly while the economy is still struggling with the after effects of the great economic crash that began a year ago.
The Tories on the other hand are champing at the bit to get the axe out and some of their proposals are seriously alarming, including the ending of state welfare by transferring the responsibility to local authorities. Local authorities will set their own benefit rates and claimants will have to be assessed as to their needs. Woe-betide the claimant who has a new computer or HD television on show when the social workers come to call. This would be the reintroduction of the means test in all its historic viciousness.
And instead of a regular statutory benefit that the claimant could depend on, paid by the state, they are likely to be awarded a “personal budget” or lump sum to meet special needs. It will always be insufficient. The disabled claimant who needs a home help will have to judge if they would prefer to have their home cleaned or their shopping done. Then they will have to negotiate with a private agency to hire someone to do this. The claimant will have responsibilities as an employer to the agency worker, for example regarding health and safety at work — relieving the agency us such responsibilities.
Many in the Tory ranks are in favour of delivering healthcare in this way — with a patient’s healthcare assessed and a budget awarded with the patient allowed to spend it as they will. Bad budgeting skills could prove fatal. Once again the amount awarded will always be inadequate. Those who are in a good job or have health insurance will always be able to top up what the state gives them to get what they need.
But as people get older they start to develop more than one health problem at a time — especially if they have spent their working lives working long, long hours and juggling low wages and debts. Health insurance companies are not keen on elderly clients with multiple problems. So there we will be with our personal health budget, not sure whether to blow the lot on a much-needed cancer operation or keep up the regular asthma medication and anti-depressants — or just buy a lot of pills and take them all in one go. If the patient misjudges it, they will have no one to blame but themselves. This is what capitalists mean by free choice and they insist that this is what we all really want, rather than to “oppressive” nanny state that simply gives us what we need because we need it.
This probably won’t happen overnight; even in the Tory ranks there are some doubters. But it is the ruling class agenda and if they have their way it will come, piece by piece, and they will try to use both the Tory and Labour leaderships.
But there is a difference between the two parties. This nightmare scenario can be stopped but only by the strength of the organised working class and it will be easier to apply that strength directly under a Labour government. The “New Labour” leadership are opportunist scoundrels and their promises are not worth a fig. But the trade unions pay their bills and the “New Labour” leadership is weak and divided. It is obliged now to take some heed of union demands, more so now than for many years.
There are openings for slightly more left-wing MPs to challenge the leadership. Cruddas of the Compass Group is nowhere near as good as the Labour Representation Committee MPs like John McDonnell but he’s still a lot better that Brown and Blair.
One consolation is that if the Tories do win the next election “New Labour” will be dead on a plate and there will be an opportunity for the left and for the unions to assert themselves and retake their party.
They will certainly need to take that opportunity for the hell of a class fight that will be hot on the agenda.