Wednesday, July 21, 2010

cutting responsibility, not costs

We can learn a lot about the range and meaning of the colossal government spending cuts from the simple fact (as noted by Johann Hari) that the 'cuts tsar' is a total cloaca called John Browne, the man who was head of BP until he was forced to resign after lying in court.

These cuts are supposed to save money. Yet they're abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission, whose advice to government on issues like reducing carbon emissions saves several times what it costs.

Meanwhile, having reduced government income by giving oil companies tax breaks in the Budget, they're unleashing deep-water drilling off Shetland. What could possibly go wrong with that? I'm sure John Browne can tell you.

Cutting the SDC doesn't save money. It costs money, promotes oil and undermines the alternatives.

Two years ago Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was already saying that there was 'no excuse' for individuals being obese, yet traffic light labelling of food that made it easy to make informed choices should be abolished as it was 'nannying' people.

Now he's in power he's wielding the axe with wild abandon. Last week he waved his hand and abolished the Food Standards Agency (a body set up after the BSE crisis showed that government and the food industry were too close).

He's been forced to backtrack a bit on that one, but he continues to cut swathes of regulation that would improve public health. Martin Hickman lists a bunch of them, including this:

the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published a plan to prevent 40,000 deaths from heart disease, calling for a ban on trans fats, no TV junk-food advertising before 9pm and restrictions on takeaways close to schools.

The British Heart Foundation, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Physicians supported those proposals. Yet the Department of Health rejected them outright on the day of publication, saying that people should just eat better and exercise more.

Britain has the highest rates of obesity in Europe. Apart from the quality of life issues, it costs the NHS a huge amount of money. So many of Lansley's cuts, as with abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission, will increase the cost to the public. So, again like the SDC, it's not cutting costs so much as cutting corporate regulation.

As Billy Bragg said, anyone who's ever found themselves in the fridge at midnight can tell you that self-regulation doesn't work. It's the failure of banking self-regulation that made the financial crisis that all the cuts are supposedly a response to.

George Monbiot's recent article talks about Lansley, and about the new self-regulation of farming overseen by a task force of farmers and corporate execs, whilst there is

no-one on the task force representing rural workers, and no-one outside the industry seeking to defend the landscape or the wider environment, water quality or animal welfare.

He goes on

Private Eye reveals this week that the government may scrap property developers’ obligations to provide social housing. This won’t save money or streamline the state, but it will allow developers to create enclaves for the rich and ghettos for the poor, ensuring that the UK becomes an even more divided society.

The plans to slash Housing Benefit thresholds from October 2011 mean that poor people will have to move to wherever's cheapest. As Polly Toynbee says,

What will be the net effect? A mass exodus of the poor, those in work as well as the unemployed, the disabled along with pensioners who form 20% of those on housing benefit – all abruptly ejected from their homes, forced to move to the lowest rent, poorest zones all over the country. This is social cleansing on an epic scale.

If the government expects private landlords to cut rents in response, a recent conference of landlords said demand is so high in the south-east – and anywhere with jobs – that they will re-let vacated properties easily.

Not only will ghettos of the poor grow, segregating society and local schools yet more sharply – but the poor will live in places that are cheap because there are no jobs, cementing in joblessness. The homeless will spill on to every city's streets

The financial cost - of emergency housing, poor health, increased crime - will be vast. The social cost, the impact on lives and wellbeing, will be incalculably huge.

The cuts have no sense of their real results and costs. This is not a measured brace of cutting waste, it is not even an array of money-saving schemes. It is a transfer of wealth and security away from the poor and the removal of responsibility from the corporate drive for ever expanding profit.

It is surely all too familiar to John Browne whose cutting of corners and ideological commitment to unregulated corporate activity led to the Gulf disaster.

Polly Toynbee again:

The whole fiendishly complex NHS has been wired for demolition without Lansley having answers to basic questions about where the debris falls. It's an experiment, a game, a folly on a grand scale.

He and his fellow ministers had years in opposition with a fortune for specialist advice – yet they arrive in office with last-minute sketchy plans to reorganise everything at a time of deeper cuts than ever tried in any western nation. Expect multiple train crashes.


Anonymous said...

"It's the failure of banking self-regulation that made the financial crisis that all the cuts are supposedly a response to."

What causes banking failures is rewarding the banks for those failures by bailing them out. When you reward such failure the clear incentive is to take risk safe in the knowledge of the taxpayer safety net.

Let them fail. We need strong banks - we don't need THOSE banks. The valuable pieces will be bought by banks who were responsible, a lesson is learned and the world keeps turning.

What has caused the problem is no responsibility. The solution is to TAKE responsibility. Banks being responsible, people responsible for what they put in their mouths. Not an army of apparatchiks adding labels that will be ignored anyway. Coke is fattening?!? My god, who knew...?

Money well saved.

merrick said...

people responsible for what they put in their mouths. Not an army of apparatchiks adding labels that will be ignored anyway.

Most people don't have the time to sort out what's healthy and what's not. Yes, Coke is obvious, but lots of stuff isn't. Indeed, it's deliberately marketed as such, playing up the fruit and not mentioning the trans fats.

The Nutritional Information panel on a label says that 100g contains 6.2g of saturates. Who knows what that means? Is that really good or really bad?

Traffic light labelling puts it in clear terms on the front. I cannot see a single argument against it, unless you count the decline in sales of unhealthy food as a bad thing. Which the supermarkets do. Hence Lanlsey axing it.

Money well saved.

The Food Standards Agency was set up precisely because the BSE scandal had shown that government was in bed with the food industry.

As it is, the FSA's been weak, but take it away and there's nothing at all. How is that an improvement?