“84% of social care beds are now private, with profits being prioritised over patients and staff, and public money being handed to companies which avoid paying tax. “
By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP & Arise Festival Volunteer
Thousands joined the latest online policy seminar organised by the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs: ‘Ending NHS Privatisation – For a National Care Service’. A range of Labour representatives, health campaigners and trade unionists discussed the threat posed by austerity and right wing reforms, as well the vision for the NHS that Labour should be putting forward.
Read the report-back or watch it in full below:
Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East & Secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, outlined the government’s plan to underfund the health service to breaking point, then insist that greater privatisation is the only way to address the resulting problems. He also argued that the proposed Health and Care Bill meant that a clear defence of a publicly-funded healthcare system based on need was required from the labour movement.
The first contribution was a presentation from Professor Allyson Pollock (author of ‘NHS Plc: The Privatisation of Our Health Care’) and Professor Peter Roderick (co-author of the NHS Reinstatement Bill). Roderick explained the Health and Care Bill builds upon previous neoliberal policies introduced in relation to the NHS, breaking with the model proposed by Beveridge and Bevan in favour of one where the public sector funds services without controlling provision.
He warned that plans for new Integrated Care Boards to take over the functions currently held by Clinical Commissioning Groups are based on the American Health Maintenance Organisation-style concept of ‘core responsibility’ to provide ‘basic and supplementary services for members’. The bill, Roderick argued, will lead to increased involvement from private providers with no accountability.
Pollock also emphasised that these proposals represent the culmination of three decades of policy, with 75% of mental health beds in England having been replaced by private capacity and 40% of elective surgery being carried out by private providers. This creates an increasing risk of a two-tier health system, where patients are effectively forced to either go private or be stuck on endless waiting lists.
She warned that the state of the care system provided an example of what happens when the state abandons responsibility for services. Roderick then discussed the campaign behind the NHS Reinstatement Bill, which includes measures such as giving the government a legal duty to provide services, ending the internal market, re-establishing Community Health Councils, keep the health service out of trade deals, scrapping the Immigration Health Surcharge, and strengthen terms and conditions for staff – you can find out more here.
Samuel Awittor spoke from the dispute at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) on behalf of outsourced security guards, thanking all those who have been offering support, emphasising the boost this has given those workers involved in the face of measures such as an attempted induction. He called for support from across the labour movement in the battle against outsourcing, a policy he stated was “destroying the lives” of those impacted by it.
Warning of a “storm ahead” for workers’ rights and living standards, he gave a rallying cry for a united front to defeat any attempt to further financially squeeze working people. You can find out more about their campaign and how you can support it here.
Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East and former care worker, explained that underfunding, privatisation, and a lack of workers’ rights were at the heart of the problem in the sector – stating that profit should never be the motive when it comes to social care. She highlighted the link between the staffing crisis and low pay, as well as policies such as the exclusion of care workers from skilled visas, with an astonishing £7 billion having been cut from social care since 2010.
Whittome argued that the current debate around care presented an opportunity to put forward a new vision for the sector, with several successful local trade union campaigns for a living wage and the emergence of organisations such as Care and Support Workers Organise (CASWO) giving grounds for optimism. She concluded by calling for a policy agenda consisting of measures including care workers being paid hourly and being given rights of key workers.
Labour Peer Prem Sikka pointed out that, in contrast to common perception, nearly half the social care budget is spent on adults of working age – illustrating that it cannot be separated from wider healthcare provision. He highlighted that 84% of social care beds are now private, with profits being prioritised over patients and staff, and public money being handed to companies which avoid paying tax.
Lord Sikka also discussed the poor pay and costing for staff in the sector, with around a quarter on Zero-Hour contracts. These have led to staff turnover levels of 33%, meaning there are usually around 100,000 vacancies at any given time – a situation that severely limits the ability to deliver the personalised care needed by many. He proposed a public National Care Service funded by measure such as taxing capital gains in line with earnings, and targeting the £35 billion of tax left uncollected by HMRC last year due to understaffing.
Fellow Labour peer John Hendy QC then outlined his proposed amendment to the Health and Care Bill, which would guarantee the same pay and conditions for NHS staff in services which have been contacted out, as well as ensuring consultation with their trade unions. As well as protecting workers in the health service, he argued, this measure could help to put off potential private providers by limiting their ability to cut staffing costs in pursuit of profit.
Katy Clark, MSP for West Scotland, discussed the proposals for social care from the Scottish Government. While framed as being the introduction of a National Care Service for Scotland, she pointed out that it will have no directly employed staff and will in effect be a commissioning and procurement service. Clark called for a care service based on the founding principles of the NHS and supported the demand for a £15 an hour living wage for workers in the sector.
Chair of the Socialist Health Association (SHA) Mark Ladbrooke said the SHA was unashamedly championing the importance of socialist policies, and pledged to continue fighting for them inside the Labour Party. Slamming the rise of ‘crony capitalism’ in relation to government health policy, he called for support for the Day of Action against the Health and Care Bill this Saturday. Ladrbooke noted that activities were taking place in numerous smaller towns which rarely see organised political campaigning, and urged attendees to take part and build support in their local CLPs and trade union branches.
Questions submitted from those taking part in the meeting online were then put forward, with topics covered including how awareness can be raised about existing levels of privatisation in the NHS, countering the argument about private providers being needed to cover the backlog which has been created by the pandemic, how the demand for a National Care Service can be raised in the struggle against the Health and Care Bill, and which tactics will be most effective in the campaign ahead.
Allyson Pollock empathised the importance of strong campaigning work in informing the public about the scale of privatisation, and argued the billions wasted on various private firms in response to COVID starkly illustrates that they are not the answer. She also warned that the government’s proposals will further increase health inequality, with less profitable work inevitably being deprioritised.
Nadia Whittome stated “the Tories want to take the NHS to where social care is now”, and called for a national campaign in support of a National Care Service, building pressure on the leadership of the Labour Party. Prem Sikka lamented the lack of substantive opposition being offered by the current leadership, and emphasised the importance of shifting the terms of mainstream political debate.
Mark Ladbrooke highlighted that there are over a million workers in the NHS – a potentially hugely powerful force if properly mobilised, with widespread support in communities across the country.
Closing the event, Richard Burgon thanked speakers and attendees and called for support for all the campaigns and initiatives discussed. He also promoted the Socialist Campaign Group’s next policy seminar: ‘Tax Justice: the Case for a Wealth Tax’ coming up on March 21st in response to the Spring Spending Statement.
- You can watch the Socialist Campaign Group Seminar “Ending NHS Privatisation – For a National Care Service” in full on the Arise Festival YouTube channel here.
- The Socialist Policy Seminar was jointly hosted by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, the Labour Assembly Against Austerity, and Momentum.