Thursday, 11 May 2017

Politics isn't Star Wars.

There's two things I'm tired of hearing and reading.

1: That Tories are 'evil'
2: That Labour's spending plans are 'insane'

For the first time in my life, we have a distinct choice at the ballot box in terms of how we want our economy run. I'm writing this in the hope of improving the debate a little bit.

Politics is emotional, clearly. People tie their identities to parties, or indeed to their disdain for the political system itself. The people in the first group who know what they believe in are understandably keen to express these beliefs. Therefore, those of us convinced of the truth and beauty of the socialist cause are prone to cast those who see the world as more about individual responsibility as 'scum' or 'eton wankers.' The latter group chuckle about 'money trees' and 'do-gooding sandal wearing social workers' or something. I don't know many of them, so I'm not that sure what they talk about to be fair.

The people in the second group are then faced with a choice. Choose 'evil' or 'insanity' or perhaps just don't bother. 'But it matters!' we shrilly pipe, whilst churning out frothing paens of praise to our chosen one and bile filled rage about our enemies. It matters because of 'evil' and 'insanity'

So - what I'm going to do is try to make a short and reasonably well reasoned case for not voting Conservative. I'm going to try to avoid the man traps of emotion and sentiment and explain why it's probably in your self interest to avoid Conservatism unless you are really well off and that's all your really fussed about.

Firstly, lets deal with the idea of debt, borrowing and fiscal responsibility. The way I see it is thus: Failing to invest money costs money. Austerity as an ideological model simply doesn't work. It generates cost which are at least concealing how little money the cuts save (thus, throwing their 'human cost' into increasingly stark relief) and at worst actually impact negatively on the public purse.

Lets take some examples to back this idea up.

There is considerable evidence that the cuts to disability benefit have had an impact on mental health. This impact was quantified into the headline figure of '590 suicides' linked to the cuts. If we take a very cold and clinical view we can assume that each suicide was attended by an ambulance, that there was some police involvement, some kind of coroners enquiry, perhaps counselling services for the surviving family members and so on. I think what I'm trying to say, is even the bluntest, bleakest outcome of suicide has hidden costs.

We could also reasonably assume that there were a number of failed suicide attempts alongside the headline figure of 590 deaths. The World Health Organisation estimates that the rate of failed suicide to successful suicide at a ration of 20:1 - I'm not going to be so trite as to suggest this means that there must have been 11800 attempted cases, but we can reasonably assume their were at least *some*

Again, if we avoid the cliche's like 'heartless' and 'inhumane' and assume the Conservative policy was attempting to save the country money, we can actually make a stronger argument. How much does a suicide attempt cost the NHS? How much does say, 3 nights in intensive care, a paramedic, a crash team, the mental health counselling and so on cost? According to NHS Wales, the cost of an intensive care bed is approx £1900.

What of the less dramatic stories? The prescription anti depressants prescribed? (the NHS spends 4.4 million per week on such medication) The children of the people who suffer mental health problems requiring additional support at school due to the sudden instability in their family life?

Lets go further and link mental health issues (and indeed financial precariousness) to homelessness. How much does homeless accommodation cost? How much does treatment for alcoholism or other drug dependency cost? (The National Council on Drug Abuse describe risk factors for addiction as including 'poverty and mental health issues.') Drug use is in turn linked to crime which again, costs money, both in terms of policing and punishing. The government's own Department for Community 2016 figures identified a 53% rise in homelessness amongst those vulnerable via mental health and a 49% rise amongst those physically disabled.

The point here is, economics isn't straightforward as the Conservative party would like to say. We don't just 'make savings' by cutting things and then counting all the lovely money. We also occur costs (actual costs, not just lovely liberal 'human costs'.) The costs above are speculative but real. Policing, prison, hospital admissions all cost money. They are an inevitable result of cuts.

We can't simply make people 'un-dependent' or 'liberate them from themselves' by desiring it be so. It might be 'well meaning' or 'what the government thought was the right thing to do' but the statistics suggest it simply doesn't work like that. It's an attitude that denies the actual situation.

Let's look at a slightly bigger picture: If the government have presided over a rise in inequality and poverty, then we can make a broader causal link to some mental health issues. We can extend this far beyond disability benefit to the zero hours contract culture (note, 2/3rds of children in poverty come from WORKING families), the failure to invest in technology and industry (low pay, low quality work), the cuts in allowances for a wide variety of circumstances and so on. Inequality has risen, poverty, homelessness and so on has risen. This has a commensurate impact on happiness and well-being, both physical and mental.


Every other cut is the same. The money might be saved in one place, but the cost crops up elsewhere. If we 'can't afford' educational investment of 6bn, it might be interesting to reflect that mental health ALONE costs the economy around 50-100bn per year (depending how you read the statistics). It would be sensational and foolish to link that entire figure directly to poverty and government policy, but equally it would be folly to not ascribe at least SOME of that cost to the economic circumstances described above, given as the W.H.O is clear in linking poverty and mental health issues.

We've not even touched on the physical costs of poverty to the healthcare system and we're already encountering numbers which dwarf some of the potential savings made by cuts. If we want to make things even more clear, then a report for the Joseph Rowntree foundation estimates that 20% of all money spent on public services is paying for the IMPACT of poverty (Healthcare, poor educational attainment, policing)

It's clear (to me at least,) if we accept the causal link between healthcare spending, lost economic productivity and poverty/insecurity, we need to invest, not simply in the NHS, but also in the infrastructure of society. It's also seems fairly logical to suggest that that investment would have some return in terms of reduced pressure (costs) on the services we are told we can't afford.

If you want *less* people in prison, hospital, surgeries, dependent on social security to top up rents, reliant on medication to exist or whatever form of so called 'dependence' you care to identify, then people have to have their basic needs met. It's a simple piece of psychology to understand that if our basic needs aren't met (security, safely, shelter) then we simply don't function to our capacity. In short, we make bad decisions. If we create a society which creates those conditions for others, then bemoan their bad decision making, we become stuck in an endless loop of repeating blame and by anyone's standard that doesn't seem to be the epitome of that buzzword for rational 21st century economics 'efficiency'

My point ultimately is - investment isn't insane - it's the opposite - Austerity is a blind alley we walk down, expecting to see the open road, but instead hitting a brick wall. It would be insane to walk down it again, expecting the same.

The Conservative economic policy is misguided as it takes a superficial an approach to saving money - and it fails to meet its own goals (taken at face value) of empowering individuals and freeing them. Whether they are guilty of 'evil' is a moot point and one I'm not interested in as it reduces the whole argument to some kind of Star Wars level debate about 'goodies and baddies' and I'm not sure how useful that is apart from affirming our own beliefs in the side we've chosen.

Whatever else the election is about, the choice between investment and not is the very crux of everything. It shapes the entire culture and in my opinion, it's time we rethought about what is and isn't 'sensible'

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