Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Haringey Needs St Ann's Hospital!

Haringey’s last hospital is under threat. Plans to redevelop the St Ann’s Hospital site have been rumbling on since 2006. Now, as the managers of the site, Barnet Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust (BEHMHT) are preparing their application to get Foundation Trust Status in 2014 the redevelopment plans have been developing rapidly. To get Foundation Trust status – which is another step towards the marketisation and privatisation of the NHS – BEHMHT needs to ‘balance its books’. They claim the site is underutilised, has poor facilities and is costing them £7.5m a year to maintain. They say the only way they can afford to provide the healthcare facilities we need is to sell off two thirds of the site to property developers. We say we already pay for universal healthcare out of our taxes, we demand healthcare facilities that meet the needs of local people now and for the foreseeable future. We don’t see the site as a liability – it is an asset that needs protecting.

From an early stage it was evident that BEHMHT’s finances were driving the agenda, not the needs of local people. They proposed moving the mental health inpatient wards from St Ann’s to Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield. Mental Health Campaigners pointed out that this would lead to the isolation of people with mental health problems as friends and carers would have to travel miles to visit their loved ones. The plans were challenged in two internal NHS reviews. Both concluded that the campaigners were right and BEHMHT were wrong. They had to change their plans and include new wards in the redevelopment plans. If BEHMHT got this wrong how can we trust the rest of their plans?

In 2011 BEHMHT set up a Community Reference Group (CRG) to ‘involve’ local people and patients in the redevelopment plans. We were encouraged to do some ‘blue sky thinking’. We said we wanted a fully functioning District General Hospital with an A&E department. They said this was unaffordable but never produced any evidence to justify the claim. The group has been meeting for nearly two years now and we have never been allowed to discuss health care needs. We’re beginning to think that the group is just a convenient way for BEHMHT to tick their ‘community involvement’ box while they continue with their plans to sell off the site and leave us with inadequate facilities. We demand an independent healthcare needs assessment. We want to know what the community needs now and in the future, we can talk about how its going to paid for later. We don’t agree that the site is a liability, we think it’s a community asset that needs to be protected. How can BEHMHT claim that the site is ‘surplus to requirements’ without the evidence of a healthcare needs assessment and a thorough exploration of alternative options that could improve the health of local people?

The local community are already articulating their needs. Mental Heath Campaigners have argued that the current facilities are stigmatising and inadequate. In addition to the inpatient wards we need comprehensive primary care, outpatient facilities and ‘recovery houses’ on site – places where the focus is on the prevention of acute episodes and the transition between services is a smooth one, not the traumatic experience it can be now. The government has said that mental health should have the same priority as physical health, we demand that this pledge is put into action on the St Ann’s site.

If BEHMHT and the new GP commissioners of NHS services, Haringey Clinical Commissioning Group (HCCG) really cared about our health in the future they would pay more attention to the welfare of our children. Haringey has one of the worst records for child development by the age of 5 in the country. This is unacceptable. We must ensure that everything possible is done to avoid tragedies like Victoria Climbie and Baby P ever happening again. Child Development Services on the St Ann’s site are currently provided by Whittington Health. They propose a new Child Development Centre on the site, one that brings together Health, Local Authority and Mental Health services, integrated to focus on the needs of the child irrespective of organisational boundaries. Local Councillors have expressed support for integrated services, but what has happened? Nothing! We demand the best possible children’s services, nothing less is acceptable.

Hospitals can be significant drivers in local regeneration. In addition to the health services they can be a place that provides jobs and training for local people and attract other services and community facilities. We want a hospital that is the pride of our community, not just a collection of disparate services shoved into the corner of the site so that BEHMHT can offload its ‘liability’.

These are just some of the proposals that we know of. What do you need? What do you think should be provided on the site? What can improve the health of local people and reduce health inequalities in the borough?

Public Meeting

Thursday 22nd August, 7pm @ Chestnut Community Centre, 280 St Ann's Road, N15

All welcome - please come and help campaign for local health services we deserve and need!

St Ann's Hospital is our local health service provider. We should be developing and improving it for all local people. Despite repeated calls for the health services on the site to be based on an assessment of local health needs we are hearing proposals that the same services could operate on a much smaller site with private companies taking over other areas for their own needs and profits. This is unacceptable! We demand health services that will improve our health now and for our children's future needs.

Please come to the meeting and help campaign for the excellent health services we deserve and need in Haringey!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Progressive Council Tax – Fairness in Action

An idea emanating from Brighton and Hove Green party is creating a buzz around the whole Green party. There will be a motion debated at the party’s autumn conference on the subject which I hope will be supported and become a central policy tool for Greens in local government.

To be clear, Green party national policy is for the introduction of a Land Value Tax for raising local revenue, but this would need a change in the law, which will only come when we get a Green government. It is also national policy to oppose the current austerity measures as pursued by the Coalition government and which is largely accepted by the Labour party. But again, we need to hold power nationally to affect this successfully.

In the meantime, we need a credible strategy at local government level where we can and do (in Brighton and Hove) run local authorities, which is more than just implementing cuts as directed by national government, as we are at the moment. Progressive Council Tax (PCT) is the best idea that I have heard of for providing us with a distinctive and radical alternative to the present system of local taxation, which is controllable at local level.

So, how does it work? First a referendum needs to be held and won in a local authority area on raising Council Tax by more than 2%, in fact much more than 2%, with the higher the increase, the less the majority will pay.

Then residents are required to apply for a reduction in the charge, which would be means tested, with around 80% of residents receiving a reduction, meaning most would actually pay less than now. For the other 20% who do not qualify for a reduction there will be steep increase in Council Tax. This is all based on residents’ income and ability to pay, which is perfectly fair and counter to the policies of the ConDem government. Vulnerable groups will get special help to ensure they pay only the correct amount.

I’m told that this does not require any change to the law nationally, so if voters can be convinced that this a fairer way to fund local services, and for most it will cost less, then there is nothing to stop a local council introducing this approach.

PCT has a number of advantages, I think. It is fairer, because those who can afford to pay more will do so, leaving those on more modest means either unaffected or better off. It also has the potential to reduce some of the cuts to services that are required by national government reducing direct grants to local authorities, and so at least some services and jobs are retained.

Then of course there is the politics. Would Labour run councils for example, follow suit and introduce the scheme themselves? If they saw it working in Brighton and Hove, they might consider it, but if not then the Green party will have staked out an alternative approach, which to use sales parlance, would be our ‘Unique Selling Point’, offering the voters a true choice in how local services are funded.

There is probably a huge amount of detail to work through on this idea, in practically introducing PCT, but I’m sure that can be achieved, and in principle it can be justified in terms of fairness. We need to be bold as a party in these testing times. PCT’s time has surely come.   

Friday, 16 August 2013

Ecosocialism - Joel Kovel explains the relationship between ecology and socialism

Author of the landmark book 'The Enemy of Nature' Joel Kovel speaking in 2007 about the need for a re-ordering of our economies before the current system destroys the planet.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Using the Financial Crisis To Force Down Lower and Middle Wages

We have featured on this blog the way the Coalition government is blaming the recession on welfare benefits recipients, and using the current economic crisis to make cuts in welfare payments, but they have also taken the opportunity to cut wages, for the lower and middle section also. A recent report by the TUC highlights this policy.
The report finds that almost 80% of the jobs created in the UK since June 2010 have been in low paid industries, i.e. paying less than £7.95 per hour. It goes onto say:
Retail has made the biggest contribution to rising employment levels, with the number of employee jobs in this sector increasing by 234,000. The average wage in retail is just £7.35 an hour. Residential care, where the average wage is £7.78 per hour, makes the second biggest contribution of 155,000 jobs.
Just over one in five (23 per cent) net new employee jobs created since June 2010 has been in the highly paid computer programming, consultancy and related services industry, where the average hourly wage is £18.40. The workforce in this sector has grown by 131,000.
In middle-paid industries, which account for nearly three-quarters of the UK workforce and where the average wage is between £7.95 and £17.40 per hour, there has been no net job creation since June 2010. While some industries, such as legal and accounting have created jobs (135,000), others such as public administration (-160,000) and social work (-68,000) have shed them.
High-paid industries were hardly affected by the recession, with the number of jobs falling by just 0.9 per cent. There are now a record 900,000 employee jobs in high-paid sectors.
On top of this, public sector workers, who are by and large low to middle earners, have had pay freezes and pension contribution increases over the last five years, with the increasing use of short term contract and agency staff at even lower wages. Private sector workers have also had pay freezes and reduced hours, as their employers piled huge amounts of cash reserves (over £300 billion at the last count, not including the banks).
Then as The Guardian reports we have one million workers employed on zero hours contracts across the country, meaning that they are paid when required like the casual hiring of dock workers in New York in the 1950’s, immortalised by Marlon Brando in the film On the Waterfront. No sick pay, no holidays, no pay when not required.
It should come as no surprise that most low paid workers are women, and are disproportionately affected by the forcing down of these wage rates, as this Coalition government is deeply misogynistic and so it is at best ambivalent to this outcome.
Wage rates have been falling though since 2003, under the previous Labour government, though not so sharply, but the gap then was taken up by increasing property prices, where people borrowed against their rising house value to fuel the economy in buying consumer goods. It appears that the current government is attempting to revive this approach with ‘help to buy’ guarantees on home loans, seemingly learning nothing from the debt ridden causes of the 2008 and continuing recession.
All of this while boardroom pay and bonuses rocket.
The future employment prospects for most UK workers will be of low pay, few benefits and generally insecure.  Further legal curbs on the trade unions, and a ‘loosening’ of employment law, with higher fees for employment tribunals thrown in.
A low waged economy where what can be outsourced to China or India cheaper will be and what by some necessity needs to be based in the UK, will be low paid and insecure for most workers, if they can find work at all.
A future where in the first generation since World War 2, the children will be poorer than their parents, rolling back all the social progress in living standards that was achieved in the last century.
Let’s not go down meekly; we can at least put up a fight.       

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Migrant Political Activists Support Reverend Paul Nicolson's Anti-Benefit Cuts Stance in Haringey

On Thursday 1 August I operated as Secretary of the non-party-political Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group that benefits Brent & Camden & Beyond, as we say in the KUWG. On Friday I was in Haringey Green Party branding, supporting council tax protester Revd Paul Nicolson of Tottenham outside Tottenham Magistrates Court. Clarence was the face of the KUWG for the photo-shoot attended by a photographer from the Haringey Independent and others — including Tottenham's post thundery shower midges that left me with souvenirs of the occasion today!

The police objected to the idea of people being photographed against the backdrop of the Magistrates Court, and so we had to be photographed with our backs to the main road.

Among those who attended, there was a family from Derbyshire who read of Paul Nicolson's stand in Wednesday's Daily Mirror: “Reverend Paul Nicolson: Retired Anglican vicar ready to go to jail in his battle for poor”. Paul was also supported by Haringey Housing Action/Haringey Solidarity Group people, Claire Glasman and Petra Dando of Camden United for Benefit Justice. Clarence of KUWG was also one of those who went into the court with Paul and Paul's son and daughter. Paul's son joked with me that he had come along to disown his father when Paul gets sent down. (I had told Paul's son that it was great that he was there in support of his father, in contrast with the way that one of Mahatma Gandhi's sons was so disgusted with his own upbringing that he became a Muslim.)

Before going into the court, Paul gave a great speech that follows in the pattern of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech 50 years ago this 28 August, updating and relocating it to mention wiping out the meanness of sanctions, £71.60 a week JSA and low birth weight futures. (There is currently a low birth weight rate in parts of Tottenham that is higher than Turkey's.) Paul concluded by saying that he is prepared to go to prison or to only pay his Council Tax when Haringey Council start using it to genuinely help Haringey residents stay in Haringey. I summarised, "So you are keen to pay for Council services but not Council disservices.

"Absolutely!" he affirmed.

Epilogue: For information regarding what went on in the court, see Jaber Mohamed's report, “Reverend Paul Nicolson uses appearance at Enfield and Haringey Magistrates Court to appeal for leniency for victims of benefit cuts.” And more information regarding , what the Chairperson of Taxpayers Against Poverty's very public stance is about than Chairman of the bench Freddy Lawson could tolerate, go to the Taxpayers Against Poverty website.
By Alan Wheatley of Haringey Green Party and Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group