Thursday, 20 January 2011

EMA, the NHS, and the class war

Today, Education Maintenance Allowance - which supports those from low-income families into further education - was axed. At the same time, the government's health and social care bill set the stage for privatising the NHS. The rulers have struck a double blow against the workers in the class war.

The decision to scrap EMA was today subject to a vote in the house of commons, after the Labour party put in a bill attempting to reverse the cut. However, they lost by 59 votes, as an entirely peaceful protest outside struggled to get any attention from the media. The consequence is that many working class teenagers will find themselves considerably worse off, and up to 70% could drop out of further education as a result.

The fact is that £30 a week is a lot to those in the lowest income families. Especially at a time when there are 18 people to every job vacancy - more in most of the worst off areas where students are more likely need EMA - given the unequal distribution of employment. And if that £30 means, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says, that "students had A-level grades averaging four points higher than would otherwise be reached and were 2% more likely to reach thresholds on the National Qualifications Framework," then it is clear that the benefits "completely offset" the cost.

But then, the government is not (despite its claims) taking decisions on a cost-benefit basis. If it were, it wouldn't conclude that it's "hard to see that EMA is a sensible use of a scarce resource" whilst giving couples tax allowances worth £550m simply because they are married, to take just one example.

Equally worrisome, if you are working class, are the government's plans for the National Healh Service.

According to the Guardian;
The health and social care bill will abolish all of England's 152 primary care trusts, which currently plan services and decide how money should be spent. Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, said the radical proposals would save the taxpayer more than £10bn over the next decade.

Under the plans, GPs will be responsible for buying in patient care from 2013, with a new NHS commissioning board overseeing the process.

GPs will form consortiums which will take control of 80% of the NHS budget, buying services from providers in the public, private and charity sectors. The health secretary claimed that his policy was already having an effect: with more than 28 milion patients covered by "pathfinder" consortiums mimicking the work of the new GP bodies.
One particular consequence of this is that these consortia are likely to, of necessity, look to the private sector for support.

Already, Wyvern Health and NHS London have signed contracts with management consultancy firms related to multinational company United Health. And budget cuts and restrictions against overspending in the new bill mean that the consortia will also have to "shop around for the best deal," allowing for the marketisation of health care and the erosion of public healthcare.

Already, we have seen the outsourcing of cleaning contracts give rise to superbugs like MRSA and C-difficile. And this is just one of the problems with a market healthcare model over a social one.

But, whilst the consequences for ordinary people will be horrific, such a system will serve as a cash cow for the ruling class. To take the US as an example, what we see is a $2 trillion of public subsidy for private enterprise. And even for the better off amongst ordinary people, those who can afford the insurance or the bills, health care may get exponentially better - but only at the expense of the masses priced out of it.

Of themselves, these two measures represent a considerable attack on the working class by the ruling class. And this is even without the broader context of the austerity measures currently being implemented, which are going to drive people into poverty and hit the most vulnerable worst. What self-interested right-wingers laud as "small state" measures are in fact nothing more than the state cutting loose the dead-weight of ordinary people so that it can better serve the interests of the ruling class and capitalism.

Already, there is a well of popular anger, and as the class war continues to escalate we have to keep its fires burning. We cannot let it be demobilised from above to further political careers. It is a weapon, and we cannot pass up the chance to turn the full force of our fury on the ruling class.