Many people in the UK are extremely concerned about the future. Most are poorer today than they were in 2010, and this year is forecast to see the sharpest drop in living standards since records began. For over half of households, paying their energy bills this winter will be a major challenge – many will be unable to heat their homes properly. The NHS is underfunded, understaffed and in crisis. Life expectancy, which had been on an upward trend, is now declining – especially among the poorest. Our rivers and coastal waters are increasingly contaminated by sewage. And the government’s response to climate change is increasingly one of denial.
But most people are not very interested in politics and claim no expertise in economics. When government ministers tell us, “it is all very complicated, every country is suffering now; we are doing all we can” many people are sympathetic.
Is it really too complicated? Is there really no better way? Should we just leave it to our leaders? Or have we finally had enough?
We have had enough: all these problems have been caused by our government’s choice of policy – all were avoidable and all still are avoidable, but a solution will require different policies:
- Our rivers are increasingly full of sewage because of our government’s policy;
- Our NHS is at breaking point because of our government’s policy;
- We are being driven into poverty because of our government’s policy.
The UK cannot afford these policies to continue. If we feel we have had quite enough, we can act to make sure they do not continue.
Our rivers are full of sewage because of our government’s policy
“… water companies do not routinely test the quality of the discharges from storm overflows… Discharges from overflows can be highly contaminated with raw sewage and other pollutants.”
The Lords agreed an amendment to the government’s Environment Bill to place a duty on water companies and the government take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows and to require that they progressively reduce the harm caused by these discharges. This amendment would have (gradually) solved the problem.
But the government rejected the Lords’ proposal and 265 Conservative MPs voted to overturn the amendment, which was duly rejected. Water company profits were protected; the environment was not. You can see how your MP voted here.
If we want clean rivers – and other forms of environmental protection – we need a change in policy.
Our NHS is at breaking point because of our government’s policy
Even before COVID, the NHS was underfunded and understaffed. This has resulted in an ever-growing backlog of patients waiting to be treated. The total today is at record levels: 6.73 million people awaiting treatment.
The government’s response to the problem has not been to use the Budget to reverse the funding deficit, but to introduce a Health & Care Bill which has now become law and which will enable ministers to migrate the NHS towards the US model – something that many of them have wanted to do for many years. The US system is both far more expensive than the UK system and far less effective. It is also responsible for more than two thirds of US personal bankruptcies. But it is highly profitable for the shareholders in healthcare corporations.
Again, the House of Lords saw the dangers of running the UK’s health system for profit rather than for patients and suggested amendments to the Health & Care Bill which the government rejected. This amendment would not have fixed the funding shortfall, but it would have prevented the government from accelerating the privatisation of the NHS.
If the government has its way, more and more of us will be forced to turn to increasingly expensive private provision – as has already happened with dentistry – and many of us will simply not be able to afford proper healthcare.
If we want to see a properly funded and properly functioning NHS available in practice to us when we need it and free at the point of use, we need to change government policy.
We are being driven into poverty because of our government’s policy
Last week, the energy regulator Ofgem announced that from October the price cap would increase from £1,971 to £3,549 for the average household on a typical default tariff. Since 2019, prices have risen by over 200% — and more is forecast next year.
The energy price cap could reach more than £5,600 by the start of next year and then rise even further, under the latest estimates.
Our government could have enacted policies to protect the UK population in the way that other governments have protected theirs:
- They could have imposed serious price caps– the French government has capped energy price rises at 4%; our price rises will be more than 50x that figure because our government does not want ‘to deter investors’;
- They could have temporarily suspended VAT on energy – in Germany, the government has slashed a surcharge on bills used to support renewable energy schemes, which will instead receive extra state subsidies drawn from higher carbon taxes;
- They could have provided direct subsidies for households – as Italy has done.
‘[Truss] has said she would “put money in people’s pockets” by reversing the National Insurance rise and moving the cost of “green levies” from energy bills to general taxation, but she has been less specific about any additional help above and beyond what the government has already announced for the autumn.’
She has refused to do more saying that “profit is not a dirty word.”
If we want to protect households from poverty, rather than protecting excess profits of up to £170 billion for energy giants (that is over £6,000 for every household in the UK), we need a major change in government policy.
And if households are unable to spend, businesses lose their customers. Without a U-turn, we shall be looking at an unprecedented rate of business collapse over the winter. The damage to the UK economy could be worse than during the Global Financial Crisis.
If we want clean rivers – and other forms of environmental protection – we need a change in policy. If we want to see a properly funded and properly functioning NHS available when we need it and free at the point of use, we need to change government policy. If we want to protect households from poverty, rather than supporting windfall profits for energy giants, we need a change in government policy. If we want the economy to survive in anything like its current state – let alone thrive – we need a change in policy.
In short, the UK cannot afford to continue with government policies which benefit the top 0.01% of the population at the expense of the rest of us.
To secure the future of the UK, we need change at the next General Election:
- Moderates and progressives in all political parties (including the Conservatives) to realise how high the stakes have become and to co-operate to avoid another Conservative government – together, moderates and progressives have a very good chance of winning;
- Voters to drop their traditional party allegiances and vote tactically – it is unlikely that the next government will be perfect, but it need not be destructive, and voters have the power to elect the least harmful option;
- Non-voters to understand that – even if in the past they did not feel that their vote could make a difference, it can now (as the results in Shropshire North, Chesham and Amersham, Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton all show, there is no longer such a thing as a safe seat).
But before that, we need to make sure that as many UK citizens as possible understand the threats to their – and their children’s – future. Please help to share the message.
And we need to keep the pressure on this government to act in our interests rather than those of their donors. Writing to MPs can seem futile, but when they get letters in large numbers, not from ‘the usual suspects’ and written in their own words rather than following a template, they start to worry about their own election prospects. If you would like to write, you will find these notes useful.
If you think you might like to help or just to keep informed, please do sign-up and join the 99% Organisation.