I visit my doctor and not the government when I am unwell. There are very good reasons for this: I don’t believe anyone was ever cured by neoliberal ideology, nor do I believe that work is a health outcome for ordinary people. Health is a health outcome. Work is just work.
If work was a reliable health outcome, then the government wouldn’t need to address in-work poverty, although sanctioning low paid or part time workers for the employment conditions that profit driven employers are entirely responsible for won’t change the nature and incidence of in-work poverty. The problem isn’t one that is down to employee behaviours, it is a systemic one.
If the protestant work ethic is such an effective cure for disease, the Victorian era “trial” certainly didn’t provide any empirical evidence of that in the data collected concerning premature mortality rates.
In fact both men and women were debilitated by the age of forty. Poor nutrition, long hours and premature full-time employment all contributed to a short life expectancy. Although life span slowly increased within the Victorian age, notably as treatment became more advanced, surgery more effective, and medical knowledge more extensive, the average life span in 1840, in the Whitechapel district of London, was 45 years for the upper class and 27 years for tradesman. Laborers and servants, who did the most work, lived only 22 years on average.
Heather Yoeli, a public health specialist from the Department of Public Health and Wellbeing at Northumbria University, says: “From a public health point of view, the main things which improved UK life expectancy between the Victorian era and the 1980s (at which point improvements tailed off) have been:
- – near-universal access to clean water and indoor toilets
- – childhood immunisation
- – antibiotics
- – access to education, and particularly, improving female literacy
- – increasing social equality
Given that, as statistics sadly show, the health of the poorest in the UK is again declining despite the first four factors mainly still being accessible to even the UK’s very poorest, one can only point at the worsening inequalities and social injustices as a significant cause. The Marmot review pretty much concludes the same.”
Addressing these issues is not consistent with the ideological thrust of Conservative policies, unfortunately, since the government insist that social problems such as poverty and ill health (the biopsychosocial model, with an emphasis on the “psychosocial” elements) are due to individual “behaviours.”
Their approach to date has been to level punitive policies with an embedded core of behaviour modification techniques which usually entails the punitive removal of lifeline income at the poorest citizens – casually called “incentivising” and “supporting” – whilst addressing the behaviours of the wealthy with a system of publicly funded financial reward. This simply recreates, deepens, perpetuates and accentuates existing inequalities.
Empirical research published two years ago demonstrated the high a cost the country paid in terms of health and wellbeing for the Thatcher administration’s neoliberal economic and social policies. The study, which examined at material from existing research and data from the Office for National Statistics, illustrates that Thatcherism resulted in the unnecessary and unjust premature deaths of British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and a widespread degradation of wellbeing.
Co-author and researcher Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute of Health and Wellbeing said that deaths from violence and suicide all increased substantially during the Thatcher era in comparison with other countries. Regional inequalities in life expectancy between north and south were also exacerbated, as were health inequalities between the richest and poorest in British society.
Professor Bambra also says that the welfare cuts implemented by Thatcher’s governments led to a rise in poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% by 1985; poverty is well known to be one of the major causes of ill health and mortality. Income inequality also increased in the Thatcher period, as the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average by 1990. Other research (The Spirit Level) indicates that income inequality is internationally associated with higher mortality and morbidity.
Yet earlier this year, the former welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, refused to monitor the number of people who take their own lives as a result of the £120-a-month cut planned for those people in the work related activity group (WRAG), claiming employment and support allowance from April 2017. Concerns were raised in the House of Lords, when Baroness Meacher, amongst others, warned that for the most vulnerable citizens, the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.
Condemning the truly callous and terrible actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.” Many people have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms.”
Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.
He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying – however you die – and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”
However, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation.
Whilst the government continue to deny there is a “causal link” between their punitive welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation, which warrants further research and political accountability.
We have a government that provides disproportionate and growing returns to the already wealthy, whilst imposing austerity cuts on the very poorest. How the government possibly claim that inequality is falling, when inequality is so fundamental a prop to their ideology and when social inequalities are extended and perpetuated by all of their policies? It seems an Orwellian re-writing of language about inequality is being used to mislead us into thinking that the economy is far more “inclusive’ than it is.
The number of vulture private businesses payrolled by the government to deliver increasingly ideologically biased and punitive welfare, health and social care “services” has risen dramatically this past six years, all of which has cost the UK taxpayer billions.
Meanwhile, those people who need essential supportive public services are facing severe cuts to their lifeline provision. Many of the multinationals contracted by the government are paid to cut the costs of public services, but are costing the public far more than they save.far more than they save. This brand of neoliberal crony capitalist is an entrenched mindset that needs to radically change, because the only beneficiaries are big businesses, and at the expense of those people with the highest level of need. The government’s policies are harming our most vulnerable citizens.
It seems that for wealthy people, “incentives” are always financial rewards, and for poor people, “incentives” simply involve grossly unfair financial punishments, which have too often challenged people’s capacity to meet basic survival needs.
It’s time to challenge the class-based prejudice and blatant discrimination that is embedded in Conservative policies, which ultimately may only serve to deepen existing wealth and health inequality and increase social and economic division.