Year in and year out, for over 100 years, life expectancy had risen in the UK. This stopped in 2011. Across the country people are actually dying younger and infant mortality is rising. Social researcher Dr Robert Putnam of the University of Manchester recently drew the conclusion on BBC News that “poverty, austerity and cuts to public services are impacting on how long people are living in the UK”. In fact, in the industrialised world, only the US has had a sharper decrease in life expectancy.
Now, the NHS is experiencing a historic crisis. We are short of 6,000 doctors, 40,000 nurses, 120,000 care workers and have lost 15,000 hospital beds, while record waiting times for treatment in A&Es, cancer diagnosis and support for mental health problems are forcing people to turn to private hospitals, accentuating health inequality for those who cannot pay.
Since its inception, spending on the NHS has risen by an average of four per cent a year. However, since 2010 the annual increase has fallen to 1.2 per cent, leading to a shortfall of over £20 billion a year, while funding for Adult Social Care has also been sharply cut, despite the increase in numbers and level of need of disabled people at all ages. These cuts have been compounded by the creep of privatisation – around 18 per cent of provision in the NHS and over 90 per cent in Social Care comes from private providers – fuelling higher costs, fragmenting services and reducing pay and conditions for staff, increasing staff turnover.
Such a historic challenge needs a historic solution. The Green New Deal cuts across every aspect of the Green Party’s policies and campaigns and will be crucial to resuscitating our ailing health system.
Only through transitioning to a carbon-neutral green economy can we bring about a healthy and democratic social order. The climate crisis has grown alongside the massive shift of wealth and income from the bulk of the population to the richest. We need to solve both problems at the same time – stopping climate change and providing all people with what they need to live well are mutually inclusive.
Poverty and pollution are major causes of ill health. The Green New Deal will end poverty by providing well-paid climate jobs and Universal Basic Income and stop poisoning people through lethal levels of air pollution by transitioning to renewable energy. Healthier people are happier and contribute more to society, however they choose to do it, and make less use of formal health services.
On top of the transformation of the UK economy we must be prepared to adequately fund the NHS and Social Care to ensure they have the resources it needs to provide a good service. The Green Party has long led opposition to the cuts and privatisation. Many of us have campaigned against closures in our local areas and are active members of Keep Our NHS Public. The party is affiliated to Health Campaigns Together, the national coalition of campaigns and unions. We have been active in founding Reclaim Social Care and Caroline Lucas introduced the NHS Reinstatement Bill to Parliament in 2015, which would end privatisation in the NHS.
The Green Party would increase NHS spending by an additional £7 billion – a 4.5 per cent increase in spending – every year for 10 years. This would reverse the deterioration of the Tory years. We would get rid of privatisation and the fragmentation it requires, which are now wasting billions every year.
In contrast, the Lib Dems and Conservatives promise to increase spending on the NHS by around three per cent, and provide little detail on any other changes they would make. While Labour’s commitment to 4.3 per cent is just behind that of the Greens, it has an equivocal recent history with the NHS, with the Blair/Brown governments expanding Private Finance Initiative funding, which will have wasted £50 billion over 30 years, and its initial failure to support the Reinstatement Bill(just six Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, voted for it), thought it has now been almost entirely adopted.
The Green Party would also spend £4.5 billion a year more on Social Care, which includes making personal care for older people free at the point of use, on the way to funding all care as we do the NHS. This is a step forward but admittedly we can go further to include disabled people under 65 and the 450,000 people in nursing and care homes, and replace cavernous private care homes focused on profit that do little to create a feeling of community and home.
We choose to invest more to improve health and happiness because that is what governments are for. We have the resources in technology and capable and committed people to do so much better.
For the last 40 years our governments have directed resources from most of us to the very richest. We will begin to reverse this. We would increase taxes on the wealthiest and tax unearned income at the same rate as those on earnings.
Finally, the introduction of a Universal Basic Income, whilst also maintaining the Carers’ Allowance, would help to lift family carers out of poverty, and a £12 per hour national minimum wage would help to attract and retain good carers into the professional social care system. The party would also introduce a National Independent Living Service, which would put disabled people in control of the service and their own lives.
I intend to campaign for a policy of publicly funded and provided Social Care, free at the point of use, within the principles of independent living. It is essential to the health of our planet and our people that the Conservatives are defeated in this election. If they win, we will need to create a resistance from the first day. The Green Party has at its heart the creation of a sustainable and fair world. We are needed more than ever.