The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 12th December, 1997

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Editorial - For all our children.
Lead Story - End in sight for NHS "Market place".
Feature - Partial privatisation for failing schools?
International - Thousands of homeless kids in Moscow.
British News - "We didn't fight the May election for this" say MPs.


 For all our children.

 THE current attack on lone parent benefit shows the Blair leadership is quite happy to carry on where the Tories left off. And this is no surprise since Labour's front bench has said it intends to keep within the former Tory government's public spending limits for at least the first two years of this Parliament.

 It is hard to say which is worse -- the Tories' efforts to justify spending cuts with sanctimonious speeches about "family values" or the sound of Labour leaders claiming they are only trying get people "back to work" -- as if they are doing single parents a big favour by cutting their benefits.

 The government's proposal has nothing to do with helping single parents. Its main purpose is to cut social spending even more, so that Britain will be on track for eventual membership of the European Single Currency, and to keep Labour's election promise to hold down income tax -- a promise to look after the interests of the rich.

 High-minded talk from Blair and his ministers has cut little ice with many Labour MPs (despite the arm-twisting efforts of the government Whips). It has angered many Labour Party members and has certainly not fooled single parents.

 If the government's main concern was helping single parents return to work it would not start by fighting for the benefit cuts to be implemented without delay.

 It would surely begin by ensuring that all children over three years of age could find a place in a state nursery school. It would take a serious look at the childcare services that are available to working parents -- at present good quality childcare is well beyond the pockets of most working class families. This problem will not be solved by opening a few "homework clubs" and throwing out a few quid per head for childcare.

 The government would also be speaking out against the continuing scandal of unequal pay and the low wages paid to so many women workers.

 It would be introducing proper job creation schemes that don't just get people off the unemployment register but which provide decent, secure jobs paid at union rates and which are not just a revolving door back to the dole queue.

 If there were enough decently paid secure jobs, adequate and affordable childcare facilities, many single parents would return to work in any case. That the government is threatening lone parent benefit shows such jobs and services are not there and that the benefit cuts are yet another attack on Britain's poorest families.

 Lone parent benefit has already been frozen for the past two years and is to be frozen again next year. This in itself is scandalous.

 It's about time the government focused its attention on the needs of children. To recognise that no child in a rich country like Britain should have to live in poverty. To recognise that all children need to feel wanted and loved. To know the importance of cherishing our children, of providing good care and good education, and offering the prospect of a peaceful and secure future.

 Children need to be nurtured by the society of today so they can grow into caring, well-adjusted adults in the society of tomorrow.

 Capitalist society, which only ever reads the bottom line of an accountant's ledger, cares nothing for children -- except as tomorrow's machine minders -nothing for love and nurture, nothing for developing people's full potential.

 And so it doesn't care that it treats children as unfortunate burdens on the public purse -- of much less value than an arsenal of death-dealing nuclear weapons and of much less importance than a fat cat's tax break.

 A socialist society has a different agenda. It is not driven by the clamour for private wealth but seeks to provide for the needs of people. Such a society, in which working people hold the reins of state power, is the future we work towards.

 But even under capitalism we can win battles and the fight for all of our children is a battle we must join!

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Lead Story

End in sight for NHS "Market place".

A WHITE PAPER setting out the government's plans to abolish the competitive internal market in the National Health Service was published last Tuesday. It is a very welcome move taking the health service away from the backdoor privatisation ushered in by the Tories.

 But privatisation will not be ended in the NHS until the practice of solving underfunding by using the Private Finance Initiative has been stopped as well.

 The plan will get rid of annual contracting between NHS Trusts, GP fund holders and health boards. Fund holding will be replaced by Primary Care Trusts comprised of GPs, community nurses and other health workers.

 Getting rid of the internal market will put an end to the horse trading over patients and money between fundholdiog GPs and hospital trusts and the madness of hospitals having to compete with one another.

 Health Secretary Frank Dobson told Parliament "Today we are sweeping away the internal market and replacing it with a system of- integrated care that puts doctors and nurses in the driving seat."

 Prime Minister Tony Blair estimated that the changes could also save the health service a billion pounds over four years as the red tape of running the present system is cut out.

 Dr Brian Potter, Scottish Secretary of the British Medical Association, said the news marked the end of a "nightmare".

 He said: "I am very pleased that, at last, the madness of the market place is being brought to an end and the focus for the future is going to be on patient care.... GP fundholding, with its potential for two-tier treatment, was a bad thing and any attempt to address that has to he applauded."

 The plan was also imediately welcomed by the Community and District Nursing Association (CDNA). "Community nurses" they said, "will have a leadership role in the new Primary Care groups which will control the NHS budget thus allowing nurses to help plan and shape a new NHS ... ...CDNA is delighted that nursing will be at the fore front of the NHS at a strategic level, however, it urges the government not to overlook slaff shortages, nurse recruitment and retention, the need for extra field staff to deliver this service, and also pay and conditions."

 And this is the rub. For although the government's proposals will put an end to the reactionary policies introduced by the Tories and point it in a more accountable and democratic direction, the NHS will still face enormous problems of staff shortages, cash shortages and long waiting lists for patients.

 Unless more money is provided for the health service than the 11 billion promised by the Chancellor in last July's budget, there will he another winter of patients being shuttled around from hospital to hospital, patients spending hours on trolleys, patients being turned away from emergency departments and growing queues for hospitaI beds.

 Rationing of services is already going on and hospitals around the country are cutting back or stopping altogether non-urgent surgery.

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Partial privatisation for failing schools?

By Caroline Colebrook
EDUCATION and Employment Secretary David Blunkett last week said that the running of state schools could he handed over to self-appointed quangos or to private firms in areas where the local education authorities had failed to meet tough government targets.

 He was announcing the contents of his School Standards and Framework Bill -- which will apply to England and Wales -which he claimed would transform the relationship between central and local government.

 Local education authorities are to be made responsible for ensuring all schools achieve the new targets for literacy and numeracy.

 Any that fail will have their powers withdrawn and the government will appoint an alternative manager.

 This alternative manager could be a neighbouring local authority, or schools could he grouped 20 at a time in difficult areas in to Education Action Zones, run by self-appointed "action forums". They could also he handed straight over to a private sector organisation.

 The "action forums" would he granted sweeping powers to ignore the national curriculum and overide national regulations and agreements on teachers' pay and conditions.

 They would also be given an extra £500,000 a year for five years -- some of it invested by business and industry.

 Of course business and industry will not invest unless there is profit to he gained.

 The forums will he sited in areas of "educational under-performance" and will be encouraged to "put forward their own radical and imaginative proposals to raise standards".

 How these unelected and unaccountable new-comers to the world of education are supposed to come up with magic solutions to the problems of chronic underfunding, deprivation and so on that the existing education authorities and schools have been wrestling with for years and years is not spelt out.

 But the record of bringing in business brains to run the National Health Service is not good.

 School standards minister Stephen Byers said that the sort of firms eligible to be considered for taking over the running of failing schools would include North Anglia and Capita which supply staff and management systems to schools.

 He said the school assets would continue to be publicly owned.

 But Graham Lane, Labour education chairperson warned that the plans could allow entrepreneurs like Richard Branson to take over schools -- what a selling opportunity that would be for some of his other products with a captive market of poorly educated children.

 He said: "That is not sensible. Virgin Atlantic may be able to run planes, but they are not very good at running trains and it would he a disaster if you brought them into running the education service.

 "Councils are interested in building partnerships with businesses, not having powers taken over by private firms whose expertise is different.

"If a government takes powers to deal with an extreme situation, there is always a likelihood that someone will want to use them -- and then the trouble starts."

 This shows some naivety about why businesses want to enter into partnerships with councils or any other public body.

 Teaching unions have condemned the plans. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Women Teachers said it would be "an unmitigated disaster if a company without enough experience of education was allowed to take over."

 The Bill would also five the Secretary of State For Education and Employment powers to give direct orders to local education authorities deemed to he failing, or this power could be delegated to an other person to perform specific functions on behalf of the authority.

 The authority's powers would be transferred to this person or company indefinately and local taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

 The powers transferred would include the right to enter local authority premises, inspect records and have access to computer files.

 And schools, teachers, governors and so on would all be obliged "to give the specified person all assistance in connection with the exercise of his functions".

 This confrontational approach is hardly likely to improve relations at any level between central government, local aurhorities, schools, teachers, parents and children.

 * The government last week said it would raid £200 million of lottery revenue to fund a network of after-school homework clubs throughout Britain to fight truancy and juvenile crime and help those who have fallen behind in their schoolwork.

 This initiative will be the first from the new Social Exclusion Unit which will also develop new projects on crime, welfare dependency and homelessness.

 The homework clubs will be in addition to extra childcare facilities already announced for working parents and targeted particularly at single mothers.

 These will also be funded from the National Lottery.

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Thousands of homeless kids in Moscow.

 THE MOSCOW City Duma estimates that between 30,000 to 50,000 homeless children are living in the Russian capital. That was the stark news reported in a Moscow newspaper last week.

 According to an article in Segodnya (Today) around 30 homeless kids are brought to the police every day, which means they take care of just one percent of the whole under-age population in Moscow. The rest can usually be found in the streets, begging in subways and at railway slations, cleaning cars or carrying carts.

 There are about two million neglected children in Yeltsin's Russia, and 600,000 of them are orphans. Some 95 percent of the orphans have living parents who have either abandoned their children or were deprived of their parental rights by the courts.

 Figures published in Segodnya based on the records of the children detained at a special Moscow police centre reveal that most of them come from Russian provinces or republics of the former Soviet Union. Most of the non-Russians come from the Ukraine -- mainly from Trans-Carpathia -- which is surprising as it is so far away.

held by police

 Hardly any of the children come from Belarus which has an open border with Russia - Kazakhstan or the BaItic states. The children are held by the police for a month and then sent back to their home provinces.

 Child begging is big business in Moscow. A well-trained girl, aged seven or eight, can collect about 100,000 roubles a day. Their older minders often run a dozen or more children in this racket.

 Organised begging has proved impossible to stop, partly because the children themselves do not know the full names or addresses of the people who run these gangs. Over the past year only ten charges have been levelled against people for enticing children into begging.

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British News

"We didn't fight the May election for this" say MPs.
by Daphne Liddle

 LEFT-WING Labour MPs have sent Prime Minister Tony Blair a strong message that he cannot take their support for granted when passing Tory policies.

 As we go to press, the House of Commons is about to vote on cutting the benefits paid to single parents and a substantial number of Labour MPs are set to vote against the measure.

 The vote will be on an amendment tabled by two MPs Audrey Wise (Preston) and Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selley Oak) -- to the Social Security Bill.

 Government whips are frantically working behind the scenes to dampen the rebellion but it is currently estimated that around 33 MPs will vote against while another 45 will abstain.

 The cuts will leave single parents up to £ll a week worse off. Survey after survey has shown that single parents are already in the poorest sector of society.

 Single Parent Benefit is paid in recognition of this and to help single parents into work. It recognises that, unlike two-parent families, they must find and pay for childcare while they are at work -- although £11 hardly goes very far to meet that cost.

 But using a very twisted logic Tony Blair claims his Bill will actually help single parents by forcing them off of benefits and to seek work.

 But doing this without being able to guarantee affordable childcare is available or even that any jobs are available is like pushing young mothers and children out of a plane to teach them to fly "for their own good" and saying the parachutes might be available next year.

 There is no doubt the measure will cause real hardship to a lot of women and children who are already very, very poor.

 The cut was proposed by last year's Tory government and is being carried out by Labour in order to keep within planned Tory spending limits. At least the Tories did not have the hypocrisy to tell the single parents it was being done for their good.

 But the measure is not necessary. Chancellor Gordon Brown has more than enough money available to cover the costs because of a dip in unemployment levels and reduced spending on Job Seekers' Allowance.

 Even if this was not so, as Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown pointed out in the House of Commons, just sealing the tax loopholes that allow the very wealthy to avoid tax through offshore investments could save twice the revenue needed to fund this benefit.

 Junior Minister Malcolm Chisholm MP has resigned his post in order to vote against the cut.

 And ministerial aides Alice Mahon, Neil Gerrard and Mick Clapham have declared they will vote against it and defy Blair to sack them.

 Alice Mahon said: "Never in a million years did I believe when we were fighting the May election that the Labour government would take this punitive action." She said the benefit cuts defied decency.

 And Ken Livingstone added: "We are demonstrating that we can be as brutal on the poor as the Tories."

 Other MPs who have declared they will back the amendment include Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Brian Sedgemoor (Hackncy South and Shoreditch) and John Marek (Wrexham).

 Last week around 120 Labour MPs backed a letter urging Chancellor Gordon Brown to " rethink" cutting lone parent benefit.

 But Labour has imposed a three-line whip and not all of these are expected to vote with the rebels.

 Even if they did, the government, with a majority of 179 and Tory opposition support for the cut, can be confident of a majority.

 Nevertheless the rebellion is a significant gesture to Blair that there is a limit to how far to the right he can take the Labour Party.

 And it shows that the policy of supporting Labour in the election while putting pressure on MPs to support socialist policies is correct. Those MPs are not Blair's automatic lobby fodder as he had hoped they would be.

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