Response to other Labour Party consultations on non health areas October 2002

Britain in the World

1. Simple public health measures will make immense differences to many people in the poorest countries. Probably the most single effective measure is the provision of clean piped water. Efforts should be directed in this way rather than in the provision of expensive medical solutions which can only assist small numbers of people.

2. Aid should be delivered locally on a small scale where possible. Encouraging links between local community groups in this country and local groups in recipient communities will reduce the possibility of corruption and encourage political and human awareness.

3. Vaccination against malaria and AIDS is potentially of enormous significance and should be pursued vigorously.

4. Recruiting staff for the NHS from poor countries does nothing to help their health systems unless what is arranged includes returning staff trained with new skills.

5. British rules on the recognition of overseas medical qualification appear to have strong racist elements and are in urgent need of review.

6. Refugee doctors and health professionals should be given financial and practical assistance to help them practice in this country and when possible to return to their countries of origin.

7. Subsidisation of food production in the European Union makes no economic sense and damages the economies of less developed countries. It should be stopped.

A Modern Welfare State

1. Work is the best form of welfare, but not everyone is able to work. It is time the Government addressed some of the problems in the benefit system for those who cannot work.

2. The decision making system in relation for incapacity for work and assessment of disabilities is badly administered. Information about the medical situation of claimants too often does not reach those who are making decisions about their benefits. Claimants appear to be expected to pay their doctor a fee to supply information about them which has been gathered in the course of the doctors work for the NHS.

3. The benefit system is riddled with age discrimination. On reaching the age of 60 a person on means tested benefit is awarded £98.15 just for being alive where the week before they apparently needed only £53.95 to live on and were required to actively seek employment in order to be permitted to qualify for it. People under the age of 25 only need £42.70 a week. That is not enough to live a healthy life. However we pay an allowance to people who cannot walk if they are under 65 but anyone over the age of 65 is no longer expected to be able to walk.

4. Benefits for pregnant unemployed women are set at a level below that necessary for health. There is good evidence that poor diet in pregnancy contributes to poor health and premature death for the whole of a baby’s life. There should be an extra premium for pregnant women in the means tested system.

5. The Social Fund was attacked by labour in opposition but has been left largely unchanged. The poorest people are left in the hands of loan sharks and have to pay more for basic necessities like gas and electricity than rich people.

6. Debt enforcement procedures and the criminal justice system in relation to TV licences and parking fines make a significant contribution to the impoverishment of the most excluded sections of the community. It is time for the UK to have a proper measure of income adequacy to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to overcoming poverty. The Government should fund research into the levels of minimum income needed to avoid poverty in both absolute and relative terms; and should set up a working party to devise publicly acceptable measures of such levels in order to ensure good health, social inclusion and satisfactory levels of child development for all citizens. This information should be used to set benefit, pension and minimum wage levels. It should inform the practices of debt collectors and the courts.

7. Many services for poor people are delivered in appalling fashion and this contributes as much to the disadvantage suffered by poor people as does their lack of income. Thousands of poor and voiceless people are still suffering from the collapse of the administrative systems in Housing Benefit and Immigration. In each case the collapse has been caused by an obsession with abuse and fraud. There is no evidence that abuse is more common among the poor than among the wealthy. If the campaign against social security fraud is to continue it should be accompanied by posters urging the population to report their friends and neighbours for evading Income Tax, Inheritance Tax and VAT and for defrauding pension funds.

8. We question the usefulness of imprisonment for arrears of council tax, fines for absence of TV licence, parking meter offences, CSA maintenance and fines for all offences that do not carry a custodial sentence. Bailiffs should not be used until the courts have assessed the debtors means. Different parts of central and local government should share information about poor and vulnerable people.

9. The administration of benefits for asylum seekers is scandalously inefficient. It must be reviewed immediately.

10. The system of exemption from charging from prescriptions, glasses and other NHS services makes no sense. The administration of many of these systems, particularly that in respect of fares to hospital, is lamentable. It should be thoroughly reformed.

11. Further immigration is essential to sustain our economy. Immigrants should be welcomed. This island is largely populated by economic migrants. It is hard to see why such a designation should become a form of abuse.

Democracy and Citizenship

1. When Regional assemblies are established Strategic Health Authorities should be answerable to them.

2. The absence of any significant elected element in the governance of the health service is a significant weakness in our democratic structure which needs remedying.

3. Public health responsibilities should be transferred from the NHS to local government.

4. Commercial considerations should not be used to reduce public information about the handling of public money.

5. The commitment to involve patients, carers and citizens in the running of the NHS is very welcome but will take enormous effort to achieve