Issue 242: 2020 07 16: Cotswold’s View

16 July 2020

View from the Cotswolds

Cut the clap, Boris:  Give them the money

By Paul Branch

The other weekend we had another clapping session for the NHS, this time to celebrate its birthday, in what apparently will now become an annual ritual.  Boris naturally led us in the applause from No 10, looking rightfully proud of this great institution’s achievements as well as of its workers, secure in the knowledge that this touching and heartfelt new gesture hadn’t cost him a penny.

Our Boris is good at gestures, and promises.  These are his strengths where he excels as an electioneering politician, but the transition to effective Leader and Statesman usually requires substance behind the gestures as well as delivery on the promises.  So far we’ve heard nothing in the way of detail on how we will reward our health and social care workers appropriately for having looked after us all through the depths of the pandemic, despite the fine words at the time when we were on our knees as a nation; nothing on how we will make sure we really are prepared for a second wave or the next medical catastrophe; and nothing on how we will be served in future by a properly structured healthcare system with joined-up integrated services across the board.

There has been a lot of sound biting and more testiculation in billions regarding future investment in new hospitals, but this sounds like “old money” earmarked before Covid-19 came along, not the new funding the NHS and care sectors need and which requires some really difficult decisions.  Two pieces of mantra that particularly grate are the alleged “ring of care” that was allegedly put around care homes (more like a noose around their necks), and how much more money has been put into this and that project compared to previous years and previous governments – the obvious question should be:  was that amount really enough, or was it just starting to make up for all the cuts during the Age of Austerity?

Maybe Boris is waiting for the outcome of the promised review on how he and his gallant team handled the pandemic crisis, to give him the strategic and financial details of a new strategic health plan, but that review may take months, years, …. who knows? … and we don’t really have that time to spare.  A couple of points for the “lessons learnt” list which probably don’t need too much in the way of revisiting:  a) the NHS was badly prepared and obscenely underfunded for the pandemic, and b) we are not able to handle a new catastrophe like Covid-19 in addition to carrying on normal service – something has to give, cancer care as a specific example where up to 35,000 deaths are being contemplated directly due to the months of pause in diagnosis and treatment.  Other countries have clearly had similar problems, with doctors having to decide who gets the ventilator and who doesn’t, but in the future when we will be afforded an alleged plethora of world-beating solutions to everything, this one should be a done deal.

So, having applauded weekly our brave care workers and health staff, not to mention other key workers, we need to wake up to the fact that we really can’t do without them, and that we need to make absolutely certain they will still be there when we need them again.  And one good way of doing that is to pay them at a level which they deserve and which makes them feel really appreciated.  Enough words, no more claptrap:  let’s put real money on the table.  And if the money was right, we might actually inspire more home grown staff to do those jobs in the nursing and care sectors that seem to attract mainly considerate, competent foreign applicants.  Interesting though that Priti Patel’s new healthcare entry visa won’t cover social care where we may well struggle without new blood from overseas.

It’s a sad reflection on our way of life that in many respects we reward people in inverse proportion to their true value.  The media seems to thrive on celebrities, personalities, those who seem to generate wealth without really contributing much if at all to our wellbeing, other than for a brief flicker of entertainment.  The hereditary wealthy are another source of perplexity – envy doesn’t come into it, just huge irritation that they could do so much real good with their accumulated wealth.  Our financial gurus, economists and bankers likewise.  But all is not lost, with a bevy of billionaires putting their names to an announcement pleading for them to be taxed more, much more, and on a permanent basis, so they can do something useful with their wealth – a truly refreshing development.

Assuming there were to be a substantial pay rise for today’s lower paid NHS staff, this would be one source of revenue but where would the additional money come from to pay for the total Covid-19 bill?  We really don’t want to disrupt investment funding and new capital projects which generate infrastructure and jobs — the subjects of the new “Build Build Build” Boris soundbite, and let’s hope that’s a bit more successful than the last soundbite which is still trying hard to get Brexit done.

Ongoing regular expenditure for the NHS and social care probably needs a significant increase in tax revenues, which sounds reasonable as we would all benefit, but again it would be perverse to hand out higher salaries with one hand and claw it back in tax with the other.  So a better way of pinpointing benefits for NHS and care staff would be ideal, which I’m sure Rishi Sunak could deliver if the political will is there.  How about capping everyone’s take-home salary (does anyone really need more than £250,000 pa for example?) and creaming off the rest of it to pay for some of the extra bill?  If this causes some to leave the country to seek their excessive fortunes elsewhere, so be it.  And could anyone really refuse the opportunity to pay extra income tax to help support our nurses properly, and additional Council tax for adequate social care workers’ remuneration?  This may sound a bit too fanciful, but on the other hand we’ve been trying to get by on the cheap for a long time now, at these people’s expense, so maybe it’s pay up time.  As someone once said: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

And if Boris can deliver a real wage to key workers, which they would probably prefer to an annual round of applause, the Prime Minister himself would deserve a good clapping.

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