I was about 17 when the NHS was founded, and I remember life in Britain before it. I came from a large family. We weren’t well off but we weren’t impoverished either, though being a large family meant we had to stretch our money a long way. Money was always an issue when it came to seeing the doctor. Half a crown was the amount I always remember, and when you’re only earning shillings, that can be a lot of money. Quite a lot of people simply couldn’t afford healthcare.
The second world war crystallised the need for good healthcare. There became a realisation that health shouldn’t come down for money. Before the war hundreds of thousands of people were just too poor to see a doctor, so the National Health Service was born in response. We wanted a world that was better after the war than before.
Politicians talk a lot about being progressive, about modernisation. And that’s what the NHS is. It is the jewel in the crown; an object of admiration and envy around the world. It’s what allows us to call ourselves civilised – because one of the benchmarks of a civilised society is that we care for each other. We’ve already tried a healthcare system based on money, and it failed.
The health and social care bill is based on three big lies. First, the government argues, increased competition and privatisation will improve choice. If you want to know whether that’s true, just look across the water to the US, and the fact that Barack Obama tried to move away from the very system we are hurtling towards. It should ring alarm bells that some GP practices are already beginning to charge patients for some procedures. Second, the government tells us it has a mandate to make these changes, but it doesn’t. The “reforms” weren’t in any manifesto, nobody voted for them and they’re desperately unpopular. David Cameron even promised no “top-down reorganisations” of the NHS in 2006. Finally, the government insists that “doing nothing is not an option”. This lie is particularly pernicious because the idea of doing nothing hasn’t been suggested: those who value the NHS always want the government to look at ways to improve it. But by phrasing the bill in those terms, the government is suggesting that we either have to ignore the imperfections of the NHS or accept these changes. It’s simply not true.
The people of Britain have been seriously let down by political parties and the TUC in recent years. There just aren’t any leaders for working people any more. This has instilled in the public an apathy that the government is relying upon to push these reforms through. They know that people will be unwilling or unable to fathom its complexity. When I tell people what the health and social care bill means, they always say “they can’t do that can they?” because they simply haven’t realised the seriousness of the proposed changes.
I’m joining UK Uncut’s action to Block the Bridge, Block the Bill on Sunday 9 October because it’s absolutely the right thing to do. We know now that we can’t rely on leaders, so we must take matters into our own hands. Across the world, it’s become clear that more and more people are starting to feel the same way. We’ve seen ordinary people protest in Wall Street about decisions being made about their lives but without their consent, and we must do the same here. We will act nonviolently and we will be clear with our message: the government simply cannot be allowed to do this. I’m not nervous about the protest: I’m ready to take a stand. I hope you’ll join me.