Wednesday, 20 June 2012

More cuts in cancer treatment and care

There are more than 2 million adults living with cancer in the UK.

On 23 May, I revealed the massive increases in the number of people waiting for cancer endoscopy tests. [See: ‘Now cancer diagnostic times up’ below]

Yesterday, it was revealed that the Government is planning sweeping cuts to the funding of England’s 28 Cancer Networks, which play a vital role in improving the quality of care for cancer patients.

This year, the funding for cancer networks alone was £18.5 million. Now, it has been confirmed that the budget for all clinical networks, including cancer networks, is to be slashed to just £10 million next year.

Cancer networks play an absolutely vital role in improving the quality of cancer care, by bringing hospital and community services together, sharing best practice and involving cancer patients and the groups that represent them.

Started in 2000, the cancer networks have been key players in increasing survival rates, and improving the quality of treatment and care. The North Trent Network – covering South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire is based in Sheffield. This area has one of the highest levels of cancer incidence and mortality in the country.

Sheffield’s Weston Park Hospital is a world leader in cancer research and provides many specialist services that are only available in a few places across the country. It is onw of only three purpose built specialist cancer hospitals in the United Kingdom. Many of the services provided at the hospital are used to treat patients from all over the country.

We have made huge progress in diagnosing and treating cancer in the last decade. Now, this Government seems intent on destroying the foundations of better cancer services.

It is wasting billions on a massive, quite unnecessary, top-down reorganization of our NHS, whilst increasing waiting times for diagnosis and treatment in all health specialties, including cancer.

Paying the price

The Conservative-led government has started a number of hares running on pay, pay bargaining and security of employment.

First, a number of Conservative MPs started a campaign to scrap the National Minimum Wage. Currently, the government appears to have no appetite to pursue this.

Secondly, David Cameron commissioned Adrian Beecroft, a Conservative Party donor and venture capitalist – whose investments include the controversial high-interest pay-day lender Wonga, whose loans can carry an interest rate of more than 4000% –  to propose reforms to employment law.

Beecroft made proposals to scrap ‘unfair dismissal’ and give powers to employers simply to dismiss employees, for whatever reason, with minimal compensation.

Beecroft said "The downside of the proposal is that some people would be dismissed simply because their employer did not like them. While this is sad, I believe it is a price worth paying for all the benefits." Older readers will remember that it was Conservative Minister Norman Tebbitt in the 1980s who told us that “unemployment is a price worth paying.”

After considerable opposition from several employers’ organisations, it appears that the government is backing away from many of Beechcroft’s proposals, although it has doubled the time in employment before any claim for unfair dismissal can be made.

Thirdly, the government proposed scrapping national pay-bargaining to be replaced by workplace negotiations and the introduction of regional pay in the public sector. George Osborne instructed all the Independent Pay Review bodies to consider how they might do this.

In the UK, nearly a quarter of all people in employment have a job in the public sector – in the NHS, schools and universities, government departments and agencies, local councils. The local proportion varies considerably – more than 50% in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency to less than 20% in my own constituency of Sheffield South East.

Any regional pay arrangements would inevitably exacerbate the North/South divide, as areas with higher unemployment would see wages falling in relative terms and, perhaps, in actual terms. Academic analysis of the data also shows that women in low-paid jobs in areas of the highest unemployment would be the hardest hit by such proposals.

In reality, although there are national arrangements and agreements for most public sector employees, these already provide for many local and regional variations. So, for example, teachers in London are paid more than teachers doing the identical job in Sheffield.

But, it also worth considering what actually happens when national agreements are replaced with regional and workplace arrangements.

-         After privatisation in 1996, rail industry earnings rates accelerated ahead of general earnings and by 2002 they were nearly 50% higher. Real earnings of train drivers moved ahead of general rail industry earnings throughout the period, and by 2002 they stood 80% above general manual earnings.

-         In the 1990s the Conservatives introduced local pay bargaining to the NHS. A review of the experience notes that this was not a great success, with evidence of significant additional costs in managing the process and massive increased complexity.

-         Local councils are free to set pay as they wish, but the vast majority choose to negotiate through the national arrangements. About 40 councils have local arrangements, but most still closely shadow national agreements and find little advantage in local variation. Between 2001 and 2008, pay under the national arrangements increased 26.5%, whereas local deals produced a 27.8% increase.

So, the evidence suggests that the government’s objective – cutting public sector pay, under the guise of being responsive to local employment markets – is unlikely to be realized by regional or workplace bargaining.

Opposition to these proposals has now come from Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in the North and in marginal seats. Nick Clegg’s recent opposition is a little surprising when one remembers that the Liberal Democrats opposed the National Minimum Wage and supported different Regional Minimum Wages.

So, the coalition now appears to be getting cold-feet about these proposals as well..

But, there are so many u-turns being made that it’s difficult to keep up.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Housing shambles

The real impacts of the Government’s economic policies were exposed this week as official figures revealed that affordable house building had collapsed across the country.

In 2010/11, 49.363 affordable homes were started. This was the legacy from the last Labour government’s policies. In 2011/12, the numbers had slumped to just 15,698 – a 68% fall – a direct result of the government’s decision to cut the housing budget by £4bn.

Locally, the figures are even worse. In South Yorkshire, there was a 75% slump. In the whole of Sheffield, just 2 (yes, two) new affordable homes were started in 2011/12.

To put this in context, the government itself predicts that an average 232,000 new homes need to be built each year for the next 30 years, just to keep pace with household formation.

Last week, the official figures also revealed that more than 50,000 homeless households met the strict criteria to be housed by their local council during 2011/12 – a 14% increase on the previous year and a worrying 26% rise on 2009/10. There has also been a 44% increase in those housed in bed and breakfast accommodation.

These figures simply illustrate the disastrous impact of the Government’s housing and economic policies and the need for urgent action to build much needed homes and get the economy going again.

The Government has been warned time and time again that its policies would make the housing crisis worse - locking families out of the housing market, fuelling rising rents in the private rented sector and leaving more people on housing waiting lists. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to want to listen.