The hidden costs of a dysfunctional system
Most on the left will be aware of the directly damaging effects of capitalism on society, like exploitation, unemployment, housing speculation, privatisation of public services etc. But what is not so obvious is the intrinsic socially destructive impact of the system that is happening everywhere beneath the surface and is eating away at the core of our society. This process is being abetted and reinforced by successive Tory governments, but perhaps more so today than ever before. The present government is actively collaborating with what has become the supreme rip-off system, a form of legalised highway robbery. At the same time it remains indifferent to the steady implosion of our social structures and the millions of individual tragedies that are happening before our eyes.
Take mental illness– one of the best measures of the health of a society –Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year. How people cope with mental health problems is getting worse as the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts is increasing. Mind, the mental health charity says that ‘worries about things like money, jobs and benefits can make it harder for people to cope’.
The imposition of senseless tests and targets on school pupils – measuring rather than educating – is increasing mental health problems among children.
The policy of locking-up even minor criminals in prison – many of them requiring mental health support rather than incarceration – and the underfunding of the prison service as a whole is a ticking time bomb.
With draconian benefit cuts, the discrimination of those with disabilities, the unemployed and single parents amounts to a criminalisation of the poor. All this, together with a lack of job and housing security leads to increased levels of depression and mental health issues, piling even more pressure on an overburdened health service.
A senior family division court judge said recently that the nation will have “blood on its hands” if it doesn’t provide proper mental health support for vulnerable teenagers. But it already has blood oozing through its fingers by starving the NHS of cash in order to drive privatisation. While thousands die waiting for treatment or because aren’t given the support they need. Obesity, diabetes and alcoholism have become epidemics because the government refuses to regulate the big food and drinks multi-nationals or fund prophylactic healthcare.
On top of the mental health problems severely exacerbated by capitalism, we also have the physical impact. The World Health Organisation reported in 2014 that 28.1% of adults in the UK are clinically obese; 62% of adults in England were classified as overweight. Even the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt described rising rates of childhood obesity as a ‘national emergency’, but the government simply twiddles its thumbs. While the government does little to promote health diets, the popular media, in fact, promotes the opposite: advocating ‘perfect’ body imagery among young people, leading directly to dietary and psychological problems.
There is a total disregard by the government for people’s health at all levels, from its support for fracking, its dithering over vehicle pollution, or in promoting healthy eating, its wilful destruction of the countryside and its subsidies for bad farming practices.
The recent letter (Aug 2nd) from Dr. Richard House from Stroud in the Star spells this out: we have an ‘epidemic of children’s mental health problems and Tory cuts are a major education stressor, the main culprit is the unforgiving audit culture that’s engulfed schools since the imposed national curriculum with its anxiety-inducing exams …increased intensity of standardised testing and performance tables. It is fear driven’!
Even economic policies, which on the surface appear to have little to do with people’s health, impact just the same. PFI projects are costing citizens billions while the buildings financed by the system – schools, hospitals, prisons etc. - are falling into disrepair. In Coventry, the city’s two hospitals were to have been renovated by the public sector for £30m. Instead they were demolished and one rebuilt using PFI for £410m. Citizens will be paying off this sum well after the hospital has closed.
Balmoral High School in Northern Ireland cost £17m to build in 2002. In 2007 the decision was made to close it because of lack of pupils. But the PFI contract runs for a further 20 years, so the taxpayer will be paying millions of pounds for an unused facility. And those are just two such examples. While at the same time state schools are falling apart because of lack of funding and private academies have cash thrown at them.
Debt created by PFI has a profound impact on the finances of all public bodies. Already by October 2007 the total capital value of PFI contracts signed throughout the UK was £68bn. But central and local government are committed to paying a further £267bn over the lifetime of these contracts. This is an enormous amount of money flowing unnecessarily into private coffers.
Annual payments to the private owners of the PFI schemes are due to peak at £10bn in 2017, but many NHS Trusts are already experiencing serious financial difficulties and, if the level of government spending falls, they may become insolvent. This profligate waste of public money means that is being taken away from areas that are in dire need of it and indirectly causing hardship, illness and death.
Government economic ‘incompetence’ has given the green light to individual capitalists to organise their own rip-off schemes. Take the recent leasehold scandal where home buyers have their leases sold on by the construction companies to predatory profiteers who later bump up the leasehold costs without making any contribution whatsoever. This plunges the unfortunate householders into financial hardship and makes their new homes unsellable.
Utility companies are allowed to charge what they want while an intentionally toothless “regulator” sheds crocodile tears and, instead, advises customers to switch providers. The companies’ profits have reached undreamt of heights and the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. British Gas is putting up electricity prices by 12.5% starting next month; Thames Water presented a select group of shareholders with a massive £1.6bn in dividends, while burdening the company with billions in debt. Its planned renewal of its out-dated sewage system will be financed by customers not the shareholders swimming in cash.
Then to rub our noses in it, we have the media peddling poverty-porn. Channel 4’s Benefits Street set the tone. The series portrayed a street in Birmingham where supposedly 90 per cent of residents were on benefits. We were made voyeurs, watching how the feckless poor eked out their living or cheated the system. A second series followed based in Stockton-on-Tees. A follow-up series called Immigration Street was to follow. This week Channel 4 is launching Get a House for Free. Multi- millionaire property owner Marco interviews the ‘deserving’ poor in order to choose a family to whom he will give a fully-furnished 3-bedroom flat. Never mind looking to solve the dire housing problem, let alone attempting to change a dysfunctional system, just entertain the masses by showing a ‘philanthropic’ capitalist showering largesse. The Victorians couldn’t have done it better.