Sunday 19 April 2015

NHS - Cancel the Profit From Illness debts to plug the funding gap

Labour and Conservatives are arguing over which of them have a 'costed' plan to plug the estimated £30 BN funding gap in the NHS budget. The reality is that none of them can be trusted to secure the future of our NHS.

George Osborne says he will find (from somewhere) an extra £8bn - but that still leaves most of the £22bn shortfall to be met through so-called 'efficiency and reform' (i.e. cuts, closures and charges). In a role-reversal that shows up exactly how wedded New Labour have become to 'fiscal responsibility' (i.e. more cuts and austerity), Labour aren't even promising to fund that much - but  accuse the Tories of making unfunded promises (and they may well be right!).

The reality is that, whether it's Milliband or Cameron in No.10, the NHS faces massive cuts, whatever the party leaders may be promising in the lead-up to the General Election. It's exactly the same scenario of course in schools, where an IFS analysis also suggests that both Tory and New Labour will be cutting school budgets by at least 7% per child by 2020, maybe more. (see my previous blogpost).

Cancel the PFI debts

So where will the money come from? More to the point, where is so much of the money going? Much of it isn't going into paying nurses and doctors or into patient care, it's going to massively overpay a gang of banks and construction companies who have been cashing-in through the  'Private Finance Initiative' - better called 'Profit From Illness'.

At the Lewisham Pensioners Forum Hustings, Heidi Alexander from Labour tried to claim that, while some may mistakes may have been made in negotiating the original PFI contracts, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with PFI. How could she say otherwise when Labour had so enthusiastically championed PFI when in Government to fund schools, hospitals and prisons? 

Jean Shaol of the Manchester Business School is more accurate when she says of PFI "Frankly it's very corrupt... no rational government, looking at the interests of the citizenry as a whole, would do this."

The BMA, correctly identifying PFI for much of the funding shortfall, are calling for the next Government to "renegotiate PFI contracts to ensure a better deal for the taxpayer". But TUSC doesn't think that this goes far enough. We say, cancel the PFI debts altogether and put health before wealth.

At the hustings, I pointed out that perhaps £60 billion could be saved - twice the NHS budget shortfall - by cancelling PFI debts. It seems that I was being too kind on the PFI vultures. The Independent on Sunday has calculated that the UK still 'owes' more than £222 billion to these companies across 720 PFIs - or about £3,400 for every person in England - and that by 2049/50 the total PFI bill will be over £310 billion.

As the Independent on Sunday points out this massive sum not only dwarfs the NHS funding gap, it "is more than four times the budget deficit used to justify austerity cuts to government budgets and local services".

Stop this criminal rip-off - vote TUSC on May 7

These figures show what 'austerity' has really been about - a scheme to transfer wealth from the '99%' to the '1%' while cutting and privatising the gains we made by struggle and campaigning in the post-war years, not least our National Health Service.

As the Independent on Sunday points out "The system has yielded assets valued at £56.5bn. But Britain will pay more than five times that amount under the terms of the PFIs used to create them". Why should we allow such a criminal rip-off to continue any longer? 

If you really want to fund the NHS and put health before wealth, then vote TUSC on May 7 and build a movement against austerity.

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