It was announced earlier this week that Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Rhyming Slang, will introduce measures requiring trainee nurses who wish to be funded by the NHS first to work for a year as a healthcare assistant or support worker. The move comes amid claims that many trainee nurses, educated to degree level, consider themselves “too posh to wash a patient”. Mr Hunt’s stated aim is “to improve compassion in the NHS”.
Other innovations to be put in place following the report into 1200 “needless deaths” at Stafford Hospital will include: A new chief inspector of hospitals to oversee an inspection system modelled on Ofsted, the schools watchdog; a statutory ‘duty of candour’ on hospitals and GP surgeries to stop them concealing mistakes; a ban on gagging clauses preventing NHS whistleblowers from speaking out; an ‘elderly care tsar’ to protect the interests of older people in care homes; a new criminal offence to prevent managers fiddling figures such as waiting times and death rates.
Without wishing to be critical of every element of this raft of proposals – there are actually one or two surprisingly worthy notions in there – the idea of a Tory minister introducing rules and regulations to “improve compassion” does rather take the breath away. This is especially the case at a time when the Tory-led government is acting savagely to reduce the income of many of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, whilst aiming to protect the rights of bankers and their like to receive bonuses amounting to multiples of their already-massive yearly salaries.
There are also many voices being raised in protest at the so-called “Bedroom Tax” which, it is being claimed, will end up costing the country more in evictions and consequent re-housing than it hopes to save in Housing Benefits. The Benefits Cap too has come under heavy fire. This was introduced with the sound bite of shift workers leaving home early in the morning, and seeing drawn blinds next door behind which snore the feckless benefit claimants living a life of luxury at the taxpayers’ expense.
It has been pointed out, however, that many claiming benefits are in low-paid or part-time work, that being all that is available, and need state benefits to top up their miserably low wages; hardly an endorsement of the Workers v Shirkers argument. There’s really not a whole hell of a lot of compassion shining through any of these policies, so a charge of double standards is hard for Jeremy, Gideon and their incompetent friends to evade. But this government does not acknowledge or admit to misconceived ideas or mistakes. Perhaps a “statutory duty of candour” would be a good idea for ministers too, then?
It does in any event rather raise my hackles when some ex-Charterhouse Head Boy like Hunt starts lecturing nurses and other dedicated professionals about coming across as too posh to get their hands dirty. Pot, kettle, grimy-arse. And it’s not even as if Mr Hunt has always managed to keep his own well-manicured paws all that clean – but it’s the mud of scandal that’s allegedly contaminated them, rather than the results of honest hard work in a hospital sluice.
In 2009, Jeremy officially came to the notice of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, after allowing his political agent to lodge in his taxpayer-funded home, and failing to reduce his claims on Additional Costs Allowance – although he was found guilty of nothing more than a “misinterpretation of the rules”. But how much confidence does that inspire in a man who tilts at high office? Jeremy did pay the money back though. Well, half of it, anyway.
In 2010, it was Jeremy’s mouth getting him into bother, now that his hands were out of the till. He suggested that football hooliganism played a part in the death of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough disaster; when in reality lack of police control and the presence of terraces and perimeter fences were established as the causes of the tragedy. This necessitated a humiliating climb-down and a grovelling apology. Then in April 2012, hard on the heels of David Cameron’s vow not to associate himself with anyone involved in aggressive tax avoidance, Jeremy was outed by the Telegraph as having reduced his own tax bill to the tune of £100,000 by receiving dividends from Hotcourses in the form of property which was promptly leased back to the company. The dividend in specie was paid just before a 10% rise in dividend tax and Hunt was not required to pay stamp duty on the property. Naughty, naughty, Jeremy.
As usual then, or so it seems to those of us who suspect that the government’s stance on a wide range of issues is not unadjacent to hypocrisy, these latest mealy-mouthings from a Tory minister reek of double standards and bitter irony. Why is so much of their rhetoric aimed at people who are dedicated and professional, struggling against the odds and against government cutbacks to do a massively difficult job in almost impossible circumstances?
Why must every official report into some awful tragedy – and the Stafford Hospital deaths were nothing less – result in a scapegoating of the people at the sharp end, doing the real work, when instead or at least also we should be looking at management and policy-makers? And just what the hell is an “unnecessary death” anyway? Or should I be asking for a definition of a necessary one? Couldn’t we talk instead about “avoidable and unavoidable deaths” and then move on from there to see who is really responsible for the avoidable ones not being avoided?
The attitude of government towards low-paid professionals in essential services has always troubled me, simply because of the elementary difference in terminology depending on which end of the scale is being discussed. It’s been the case for most of last century that nurses – for example – have been referred to in radically different terms as compared to bankers – for example. It’s still the case today, folks, and it goes like this:
Nursing is a vocation. People at the bottom have a vocation, you see, which means it’d be a shame to spoil something so pure and unselfish by doing anything so sordid as paying them properly. If they have this vocation, what else do they need, after all? Meanwhile, bankers – lacking anything as splendid as a vocation – need “incentives” to keep them here to ruin our economy, and at all costs stop them fleeing abroad (to ruin someone else’s). It’s been seen as very important by successive governments that we get this distinction and know our place. So, remember. At the bottom: vocation (low wages). At the top: incentive (huge bonuses). It’s the Tory way.
As long as we keep accepting the sheer hypocrisy and double standards that are being routinely shoved down our all-too-receptive throats, then quite frankly we deserve the government we get, though saddling ourselves with this shower seems positively masochistic. Oh, but I forgot – we didn’t actually elect them, did we? But as long as this sort of crap is meekly accepted, then the likes of Jeremy Hunt, and his fellow born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-their-mouths cronies in the Cabinet, will continue to get away with policies and actions that seem set to drive more and more people out of their homes, off to the nearest food bank and maybe even over the brink of despair into suicide.
A Scottish writer took his own life the other day, leaving a benefits decision notice in lieu of a suicide note. A Birmingham Coroner has noted that he officiated at five inquests into self-hangings in one day recently, and that the trend of suicides is way up. This is the human cost of this government’s policies, and meanwhile they’re blithely having a go at hard-working, dedicated people like nurses. “Too Posh To Wash”. Doesn’t the sheer, arrogant smugness of it just make your blood boil?
Meanwhile, Gideon Osborne was in Europe recently, arguing against proposals to cap bankers’ bonuses at 100% of salary, or 200% if shareholders approve. Generous enough, you’d have thought. And guess who found himself in a 1 to 26 minority? Yep, it was our Gideon, bravely standing alone while everybody else saw sense – doubtless though his heart was bleeding at the thought of impoverished City types trying to figure out which was the gas oven and which the dishwasher, prior to sticking their heads in and, down to their last 10 million, ending it all.
I honestly think that the Tories, heedless of the plight of their poodle partners in the coalition, those hapless and doomed Liberals, have given up any realistic hope of re-election in 2015, and are set on accomplishing as much of their malign agenda as possible in this Parliament. Surely this is the only explanation for the tidal wave of malicious policies that flow from them, like a torrent of sewage from a long sea outfall pipe. They seem set on victimising massive, and massively vulnerable, swathes of society; the type of people that are not going to vote Tory anyway, and who therefore seem to be classified as expendable.
And with the other hand, they’re equally determined to protect their natural friends and allies from the icy blast of austerity that is making this prolonged winter seem even colder and more hostile than the weather alone can manage. Don’t forget, it’s only a few more sleeps now until those in the million-a-year class get their £100,000 a year present from Gideon, an annual reduction in tax for each of them that could pay the salaries of four newly-qualified teachers. How do you like them apples, chaps? That’s what you get for being “One Of Us”, don’t you know.
And so, seemingly, it will go on, right up to the bitter end in just over two years – assuming, that is, that They don’t decide to do away with elections altogether, or maybe instigate a small but popular war somewhere – there is a precedent for saving an evil and despised government this way. How are the Argies fixed these days for a bit of a scrap, I wonder? But if democracy does survive, what sort of a country will we be living in by 2015? What will be the death toll of benefit reform and austerity, whether it be from suicide, starvation or hypothermia? How will the rich have used their quarter of a million pound tax windfall? Not to create jobs, not with Workfare providing slave labour in defiance of the courts and circumventing that inconvenient minimum wage legislation. No need, old fellow.
We’ll need to take stock then at the next General Election; those of us who are still here. And we’ll need to go to the ballots in overwhelming numbers, sending out a message to those who have stomped all over us since 2010 that they’re out, and that they won’t be back until and unless they’ve learned a little humanity. Above all, we’ll be charged with the massive responsibility for making sure that we get it right next time. We simply can’t afford another mistake like this one.