|Volume 43 Number 3, January 29, 2013||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
Illegitimate Austerity Programme:
Government’s Ending of Independent Living Allowance “Cruel and Costly”
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Over 25,000 people marched on Saturday to Save Lewisham Hospital. The march was led by Lewisham Hospital workers and a group of Olympic drummers and nurses. It began from the grassy knoll, spilling over onto the roundabout near Lewisham station, and took nearly two hours for the whole march to finally get to the rally and festival in Mountsfield Park.
A feature of the march was the mass of people from the community, and it seemed almost as if the demonstration were filled with young children and buggies! Unison banners and balloons, as well as the banners of other unions whose health workers are affected by the threatened closure, were also in evidence. Contingents had also arrived from across London, and indeed other parts of the country.
Millwall FC brought forward their FA Cup fourth round tie against Aston Villa to Friday night so the game would not clash, despite the likely loss of revenue.
The battle to safeguard the future of Lewisham Hospital is being seen as a crucial one not only for south London, but in determining the future direction of the health service.
The accompanying video (see below) gives a good idea of the spirit and militancy of the marchers.
It is difficult to conceive of a more capital-centred argument than that being used to attempt to justify the replacement of the Lewisham Hospital’s emergency department with an “urgent care” ward, and turning its maternity services into what is being termed a midwife-led unit. 60 percent of its buildings would be sold. This is why the Campaign is referring to the present proposal as “insane”. This verdict is underlined by the fact that the A&E department at Lewisham has itself recently completed a £12 million revamp.
The logic being applied is not what will best serve the health needs of the people, but whether a nearby Healthcare Trust should be rescued financially by re-locating services there and cutting staff. Marcher after marcher, as well as speaker after speaker at the rally, had a story about how the Lewisham A&E had saved lives which would had been lost under the proposed arrangement, or had guaranteed a safe birth which would have been put at risk should the proposal go through.
The “loss” at the South London NHS Trust of an alleged £1.3 million a week, as has been amply explained by the Campaign, is attributable, in whole or in part, to the PFI debts which were incurred some years back. There is a solution, which is to either re-negotiate this debt, write it off altogether, or declare a moratorium on the debt payments until such time as it no longer threats health care in any way, should such a situation be attainable. As investigative journalist and photographer Andy Worthington put it, “anyone who looks at the nature of the deal – a £2.5 billion repayment for two hospital that cost £210 million to build – will realise that those profiting from the deal – Barclays, Innisfree and Taylor Woodrow – are, essentially, thieves, prepared to damage the health services on which hundreds of thousands of people depend, to ensure their own disturbingly disproportionate profits.”
As Dr Louise Irvine, a local GP and chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, "If Jeremy Hunt can close a good local hospital here, he can do it anywhere in the country – nowhere is safe."
The conclusion must be that the government has washed its hands of any responsibility for the public good, and in particular for the needs of the people for health care. Instead, the government is taking the NHS further down the direction of serving the interests of the financial oligarchy, for whom not even a functioning national economy with a healthy workforce has any priority.
The reorganisation proposed by the Trust Special Administrator Matthew Kershaw, on which Jeremy Hunt is to make his decision, to deal with the plight of the South London NHS Health Trust would, it is suggested, include cutting 140 medical staff across the trust's three hospitals. Implementing the recommendations would cost around £313 million, while the Trust's debts are expected to stand at £207 million by March.
Time for a New Direction for the NHS
There is an urgent necessity right now for a new direction for the NHS, in the context of a new direction for the economy, as the demands of the financial oligarchy clash irreconcilably with the demands of the people for their right to health care and other claims on society. This also entails that the people should be empowered to be the decision-makers, not the representatives and executors of monopoly capital.
The workers’ opposition and the people as a whole have the responsibility to take action to effect change in direction of the health service, and the direction of the economy as a whole. That the demonstration on January 26 was so determined and encompassing shows that the time is ripe for the people to strengthen their organisation and step up their resistance with the aim of being in control of their own affairs.
Dr Louise Irvine gave the call at the end of the rally, on behalf of the Campaign, for all concerned to gather at Lewisham Hospital at 6.00pm on whatever day Jeremy Hunt makes his announcement, either to celebrate victory or to strengthen the resolve to carry on the fight, and to discuss the way forward. There is to be a week of action from February 9, culminating in a day of events of the south London boroughs on February 16.
WWIE vigorously supports this call, and adds its voice once again to the just demands of the campaign to Save Lewisham Hospital, and for a new direction for the NHS.
RCPB(ML) film production
Left: Matt Wrack - FBU Right: Heidi Alexander MP
Left: Joan Ruddock MP Right: Nick Ferrari from Radio Station LBC
Photos: Workers' Weekly and Owen Liddle. For photos by Leila O'Sullivan, Andy Worthington and more visit http://www.savelewishamhospital.com/
Over 25,000 demonstrate in Lewisham against closure of successful hospital
On Saturday 26 January, over 25,000 people from around the country took to the streets in protest against Government proposals to close emergency and maternity services at Lewisham Hospital – a clinically high performing and financially solvent Trust – due to problems at the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust.
Dr Helen Tattersfield, local GP and Chair of Lewisham’s Clinical Commissioning Group, said the “Save Lewisham Hospital” group had been overwhelmed by the support from people around the UK who came to the march:
“It just highlights that this a national issue. This is the first time the Government has put in place its ‘failure regime’ for an NHS Trust – South London Healthcare – and the proposed solution is to destroy services at a separate neighbouring Trust which is high performing and financially solvent. The ‘failure regime’* is set to be used many more times across the UK, so if the Government can close down Lewisham Hospital then no successful hospital in the country is safe.”
LBC presenter Nick Ferrari has spoken on air about how Lewisham Hospital saved his son’s life, and was one of the speakers at the event. He said:
“Lewisham AE has saved countless lives. The Maternity Unit has brought thousands of lives into this world. Any closure would be like an act of criminal vandalism.”
Jeremy Hunt is due to make his decision on the proposals to close Lewisham’s AE and to close full maternity services by 1 February.
Dr Louise Irvine, local GP and chair of the ‘Save Lewisham Hospital’ campaign, added:
“There is agreement from GPs across South East London that these plans are not safe. Mid Staffs shows the dangers of putting finances before patient safety, and this is in danger of happening here.
“Ironically, the plans do not even make sense financially, as noted in the press . Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust is a successful organisation and wants to work with GPs, local people and patients to make the savings needed without destroying vital services, but the Government ‘special administrator’ has refused to listen.”
A spokesperson from Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust said:
“We have been overwhelmed by the support from patients, GPs, MPs, partners and local people from across London and beyond. We do not agree with the proposals to close vital emergency and maternity services at Lewisham. We have said we should be allowed to determine the future of services ourselves. In looking at how we maintain high quality services while meeting financial challenges which the NHS faces, we would include proper engagement with GPs, patients and the public.”
The march went past Lewisham Hospital and ended at Mountsfield Park for a festival, including music from the drummers who performed at the Olympic opening ceremony.
Key facts on Lewisham Hospital
· The Trust’s new £12 million emergency department opened in April 2012, with Gareth Malone doing a performance in the department with the Trust choir (shown on BBC2)
· Delivered 3,973 babies in 2011/12. In 2012/13, the Trust is on target to deliver 4,200 babies.
Head of Communications
Note: *The failure regime is known as the “Unsustainable Provider Regime”.
In their statement of December 18, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) strongly attacked the Coalition government’s plan to finally end the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on March 31, 2015, the government already having closed new entries to the fund in 2010. The ILF has hitherto existed to provide money to help disabled people live an independent life in the community rather than going into residential care. With the closure of the ILF, the responsibility for care will be devolved to the local authorities in England and administrations in Scotland and Wales.
The PCS pointed out in their statement that “…with funding for these authorities unlikely to be ring-fenced the one-to-one support currently available will be lost, as local councils budgets grapple with huge cuts in government spending”. The abolition of the ILF will be a heavy blow to disabled people and their families. As PCS generalsecretary Mark Serwotka said: "Not only is it simply cruel to cut dedicated support for disabled people to live independent lives, this will end up costing us more… Local authorities have had their budgets ripped to shreds by this government and we fear this vital funding will be swallowed up as councils battle to make ends meet."
On December 19, the day after the PCSU issued its statement, it announced that two ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions had refused to meet with PCS officials for discussion despite the highly controversial and far-reaching nature of the government’s plans for welfare and employment services. The PCS had asked to meet the minister for disabled people Esther McVey who was “unavailable”. However, in her reply to PCS industry officer Charles law, she said that she believed her government department “…should play a leading role in changing the way disabled people are perceived and treated and ensuring their full and equal participation in society". She added, "I firmly believe that it is incumbent upon each and every one of us, individually and as a society, to do all that we can to increase disabled people's independence." The PCSU aptly pointed out, “Despite this undoubted commitment to her work the minister does not feel it is necessary to meet with the union that represents almost 80,000 staff in her department.” In her evasive and callous statements Esther McVey is denying, as is the government as a whole, that it has any responsibility for the welfare of the people.
The government’s ending of the ILF is just one example of the government’s anti-social “austerity” programme being carried out under the fraudulent claim of “deficit reduction” to pay the rich and privatise public services, in other words to secure the “right” of the monopolies to aim for maximum profit and totally disregard the right of workers for basic care. As is starkly demonstrated in this issue of care in the community, the government in its “austerity” programme and “deficit reduction” is systematically attacking and destroying working people’s fundamental and hard won rights to decent health, education and all other social needs.
Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Investments in Social Programmes!
The archaic character of the Westminster parliamentary system has been further exposed by the publication on January 15 of a previously confidential Whitehall pamphlet entitled “Queen’s or Prince’s Consent”, publically indicating for the first time the extent to which senior royals are asked to given their consent to legislation. The 23-page document, now available on the Cabinet Office website, details situations where this Royal Consent is required and gives various examples where it has been sought.
Royal Consent is a separate prerogative power to Assent, and is particularly obscure. Assent is the final stage of the legislative process by which a bill passed in the houses of parliament becomes law. By convention, Assent is almost never refused (it was last withheld in 1708).
On the other hand, Consent occurs during the progress of a bill, and does actually get refused. Via this power, the Crown actually vetoes legislation passing through parliament. In addition to full refusal, bills may also be amended as part of seeking Consent.
The publication of the document is the result of a two-and-a-half year legal battle that began when doctoral legal student John Kirkhope made a Freedom of Information request for the pamphlet in August 2011, which was refused by the Cabinet Office on grounds of “legal privilege”.
When Information Commissioner Christopher Graham overruled this decision, the Cabinet Office appealed in an information tribunal, which they lost. The pamphlet has now been finally released.
Andrew George MP on January 14 raised questions surrounding the issue of Royal Consent in parliament. The issue has been reported in the press, but it has so far been kept in the background.
The document specifies that Consent of the Queen, or in certain cases of the Prince of Wales, is required when proposed legislation affects: the royal prerogative; hereditary revenues; the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall (from which the royal family derives vast incomes); or the personal properties or interests of the crown.
What this actually translates into in reality is a wide range of bills for which Consent is sought. In recent years, for example, Consent was sought for include the Higher Education Act 2004, the Work and Families Bill 2005-6, the Energy Bill 2007-8, the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill 2012-12 and many others.
The Guardian lists some 28 bills subject to Consent from the last ten years alone, a list not claimed to be exhaustive. It is not known how many of these were amended as a result. Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith has stated a full account of bills affected will not be published, on grounds of cost.
A number of bills have actually been refused Consent. In recent times, these are the reform of the House of Lords Bill 1990, the Palace of Westminster (Removal of Crown Immunity) Bill 1998 and the Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill 1999.
The last of these was a private member’s bill introduced by Tam Dalyell MP, which was intended to transfer the monarch’s power to authorise military action against Iraq to parliament. As a Bill affecting the royal prerogative, Consent was required. Acting on the advice of the government, the Queen refused to grant Consent for the introduction of the bill. The bill was then dropped and was never debated in parliament.
Commentators have picked up on the exposure of the real power of the monarchy, and certainly, this prerogative power could theoretically be used by the monarchy directly. However, under current arrangements of state power and governance, this would have similar connotations to directly invoking any other prerogative power.
In actuality, this power of veto is actually only used on the advice of the government, by convention. It is really another prerogative power wielded by the executive via the arrangement of the monarch-in-parliament, and as such, it further exposes the absolutism at the heart of the British parliamentary system, a remnant of feudal absolutism in the hands of the executive. The occasions where Consent has been refused highlight how the monarchy is used as a tool by the executive for self-serving ends. It demonstrates that the royal prerogative is concentrated in the hands of a few at the heart of the government.
This exposure further raises the need for democratic renewal and a modern constitution. The very manner by which the exposure came about reveals a sharpening of the contradictions in society on this issue. People require a modern constitution that subordinates the executive to the legislature and that in turn to themselves, where sovereignty is vested, as well as new mechanisms through which they hold political power, have a direct and informed role in the decision-making process and effect their sovereignty. The workers’ opposition must fight to be in a position to hold the government to account and challenge the dictatorship which the document exposes.
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