According to NHS bosses, the Health Service needs an extra £8 billion a year by 2020 to cope with an ageing population and new medical technologies. Or a total of £30 billion on top of the Government’s projections.
Those figures, £8 billion and £30 billion, are both both big numbers. They are much bigger than the £2.5 billion which the Labour leaders have promised to add to the NHS budget from a mansion tax.
They are also small. They are small compared to the £297 billion which is the total wealth of just the hundred richest people in Britain.
They are not big compared even to the £40 billion extra which those hundred people added to their wealth in just the one year 2013-4. A tax on wealth could save the NHS, and do much more besides.
Worldwide, a tiny minority, just the richest 1%, own more than 48% of global wealth. Just 85 of the world’s richest people own £1,000 billion between them, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.
The right wing argues that economic inequality is all right because, by making space for incentives, it encourages growth and thus indirectly helps us all.
Inequality is oppressive even if poor people have mobile phones and TVs. Anyway, one third of wealth in the UK is inherited, not “earned” by people following “incentives” even if you accept that a big shareholder getting dividends “earns” his or her part of the wealth which the company’s workers produce.
The OECD — no socialist body, but a coordinating agency of the world’s richest capitalist countries — concludes that overall economic growth in the richer countries has been held back, not speeded, by rising inequality.
According to the OECD, rising inequality in the two decades after 1985 shaved nine percentage points off UK growth between 1990 and 2000. The economy expanded by 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but would have grown by almost 50% had inequality not risen.
Both inequality of wealth and inequality of income are increasing. The top 10% in the UK owned 51.5% of all household wealth in 2000, and 54.1% in 2014. The richest fifth of the UK population had incomes £940 bigger in 2013 than in 2012. But incomes were down by £250 for the other 80% of the population... and by £381 for the poorest fifth.
The answer is not just a petty mansion tax. It is collective organisation to take over the wealth monopolised by the top few per cent, to bring the main concentrations of productive wealth under common ownership and control, and to operate them so as bring good services and good living standards to all.
Along the way, and immediately, we should demand heavy taxes on the rich to save and improve our National Health Service.
Osborne's double message
In his Autumn Statement on 3 December, Tory Chancellor George Osborne both boasted about economic recovery and promised huge cuts if the Tories win the next election.
His planned cuts are big enough to reduce public spending, as a percentage of the economy, to the level of the 1930s, before there was a National Health Service and when most children left school at 14.
He aims to combine a message that it’s all going well, so he should be congratulated and the rich should get tax cuts, with a message that it’s all precarious, so the worse-off must suffer even more, for many years to come.
He can get away with it to any extent at all only because of the weakness of the Labour leaders’ response. Ed Balls dare not even say what he said, rightly, back in 2010, that a slump calls for increased, not decreased, public spending.
Osborne’s measures have not even reduced government debt. It continues to rise. The annual deficit — the increase in the debt — has shrunk a bit, but not much, and not nearly as much as Osborne claimed it would.
Other governments in Europe have also planned drastic cuts — in Belgium and Italy, where there have been big demonstrations and strikes in response.
The background is not an acute financial crisis like 2008. Ireland is now out of the bail-out. The Greek government hasn’t done as it hoped, and got out of the bailout in 2014; but it’s still afloat, which seemed unlikely two years ago.
The medium-term plan now across the European Union is “structural reform” — cuts, reducing workers’ rights — supposed to make economies “competitive”. It can’t make them all more competitive. They’re in a race for the bottom.
The supposed greater competitivity can’t get big results by way of exports outside the EU, either. The Chinese government is deliberately slowly down its economy. The “emerging” economies — Brazil. Russia, South Africa — are stagnant. The USA is growing a bit faster, but with fast-increasing inequality, and so a limited consumer market to suck in imports. The oil-exporting countries are in trouble because of the fall in the price of oil.
Capitalism promises continued economic depression as far as we can see ahead. Capitalist governments want to use that depression to batter down working-class rights and standards and thus shift the frame for coining profits in eventual recovery.
Osborn has made many of his cuts by way of local government. If Labour councils had a real will to push a Labour government into reversing cuts, then they would be using reserves and financial juggling to avoid cuts in April 2015 budgets, and aiming for a revision after May. In fact councils, Labour as well as Tory, predict huge cuts.
They deliberately paint so bad a picture that even a slight wriggle can make it seem that they've made it not so bad. But the cuts are axing more and more basic services.
Workers’ Liberty activists everywhere will be striving to rebuild local labour movement anti-cuts campaigns. This may be difficult: those campaigns have declined, or sometimes dissolved, in the wake of the labour movement's defeat over pensions in 2011.
The flurry of national anti-cuts initatives in 2011 has subsided, leaving only the People’s Assembly. Some local People’s Assembly groups have large-ish meetings and have taken over from the local anti-cuts campaigns set up by Trades Councils and the like. But they are patchy, and tend to be more vehicles for occasional public meetings than for day-to-day organising.
Rebuild the local anti-cuts campaigns! Demand the labour movement campaign to tax the rich and reverse the cuts!