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Tuesday 10 April 2012


United Kingdom: Spending Cuts Don't Heal

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 24th November 2011

The Occupy movement has arisen in response to corporate and financial sector irresponsibility and government spending cuts. With indications that we may be in for further public sector service and spending cuts here in New Zealand, how have some UK LGBT organisations dealt with this?

How is this relevant to New Zealand's current election campaign,though? New Zealanders don't tend to look kindly on austerity budgets and radical public service cutbacks. When the Reform/United Coalition tried it in the thirties, there was massive civil unrest and Labour won the 1935 New Zealand General Election in a spectacular landslide- and the Right was pitched out of government for fourteen years. When the Nash Labour administration introduced Arnold Nordmeyer's "black budget" in the late fifties, it doomed the party to a single term of office. When Ruth Richardson introduced her brutal "Mother of All Budgets" and brutal social service cutbacks in 1991, it precipitated an almost hung parliament and MMP was passed at the second electoral reform referendum in 1993. When National was voted out of office in 1999, it remained in the political wilderness until the advent of the Key administration in 2008. Now, Treasurer Bill English has stated that we're in for a similar austerity budget if the Key administration is re-elected next month. So, what might we be in for, and how has this state of affairs unfolded in the United Kingdom?

And how would this directly affect us? Remember, there is a close collegial relationship between the Conservative and National Parties and some transnational flow of advisory staff and policy advice. Don't forget either that to manage the HIV/AIDS epidemic optimally, we need a comprehensive welfare state, accessible public health care and other benchmarks of the modern western welfare state. So, yes, this situation may not be as remote from our concernsor immediate future as one might think.

Queer Resistance is the co-ordinating LGBT affinity group opposed to the cuts, and belongs to UK Uncut, a widespread protest movement that co-ordinates anti-austerity and anti-corporate protests, occupations and civil disobedience, especially against public spending cuts, corporate tax avoidance and financial institutions. Vodafone, Fortnum and Mason, Top Shop (apparel), HSBC, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Natwest have all felt UK Uncut's protest.

In addition, the Health and Social Care Bill is a particular focus of LGBT and other anti-cuts movement anger. This 'reform' is meant to redirect expenditure to consortia of general practitioners whose expenditure decisions and board meetings are not open to official information requests and raise questions about transparency and accountability. It was not mentioned by the Conservative Party during the general election last year, nor was it included in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition agreement. In July 2010, the Cameron administration released a white paper based on a month-long 'listening exercise', which condemned the proposed bill. In addition, the British Medical Association and Royal Colleges of General Practitioners, Physicians and Surgeons and Nursing, Unison and Unite (National Health Service employees unions) have expressed concern about the measures. They all fear that government-funded National Health Services will be open to price-based competition, which will render it difficult to maintain the extent and scope of accessible public health services currently provided. The above medical practitioners associations and trade unions have also raised concerns about the fragementation of services and loss of strategic planning. The 'reforms' have multiple regulators- the Ministry of Health, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, Care Quality Commission and the NHS Commissioning Board, as well as Monitor, the economic regulator.

What about Queer Resistance, given the above context? As a LGBT anti-cuts affinity group, they've already had some actions credited to their name. Predictably, HIV/AIDS service cuts are high on their agenda. Illogically, from a cost savings perspective, the Cameron administration has cut service funding for HIV/AIDS testing and prevention services, while not touching treatment services- yet, this neglect of primary health care services will lead downstream to more expenditure on pharmaceuticals, medical equipment wear and tear, hospital bed occupancy and staff renumeration needs. For this reason, Queer Resistance occupied an HSBC branch and turned it into a sexual health service clinic, to symbolise their concern at corporate bailouts and HIV/AIDS and STI prevention spending cuts. The above-cited NHS 'reforms' are also a target of their opposition.

This is an inspiring movement and it is excellent to see LGBT community members engaged in work for the public good and health service accountability and accessibility. Why do we leave such sterling work to the Public Service Association, the beloved Sue Bradford and her fellow campaigners against creeping loss of accountability and service privatisation and retrenchment in the public sector? Isn't it time more of us got involved?

Recommended:

UK Uncut: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk

New Zealand: Public Service Association: http://www.psa.org.nz


Craig Young - 24th November 2011

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