Why are consecutive regimes hell-bent on tinkering with the basic constructs and principles of education, health and social care? We know what we need: easy, reliable access, free at the point of service; a consistently high standard, common to all; adequate numbers of well-treated, well-remunerated and properly respected staff, who function with compassion, efficiency, respect for the work and respect for the individual. Why are these things constantly up for grabs? Did some fundamental principles become redundant at some point? No, just some dim wits experimenting with legacies and ideologies and wanting, increasingly, to endorse some commercially-weighted agenda. No, just some bright sparks who decided that citizens didn’t much care to and therefore shouldn’t need pay for anything beyond their own personal needs and that the ability of a few to afford choice was a chuffing good opportunity to promote and demonstrate an aspirational culture.
When it comes to our utilities, we have issues with considerable overlap: profit and competition touted as the sole, effective vehicles by which to drive progress yet which come with elusive accountability, ever increasing cost, questionable service and woeful underinvestment. Profit, competition and ‘choice’ in exchange for public control, affordability and accountability under the ruse that the State – we – could never have afforded the necessary investments ourselves. Well, that turned out well, didn’t it? If we had made the investments, ourselves, not only would the price to profit ratio be ours to determine but the rate and types of investment could be more bespoke to our needs than to a nefarious corporate agenda. Like being able to plump up the public pension pot instead of paying dividends to private shareholders; like being able to help vulnerable demographics through a harsh winter, for example.
How careless is a nation whose government absolves itself of responsibility by shrinking the remit of the state – us – in favour of hit-and-miss, corporatised outsourcing? How ignorantly and recklessly regressive is it to encourage a two-tier education and health system? How cruel is it to actively fuel more poverty? How negligent and patronising is a government which relies on charity to avoid social responsibility? How crazy and complacent is it to put one’s faith in and rely on the philanthropy of those who co-create the dependency? It’s quite simple: do we, the people, think this is acceptable? Or do we think it doesn’t matter?
It’s pretty simple: do we believe essentials as Education, the Justice system, Health and Social Care, Policing (and all Emergency Services), Energy, Water, etc should be left to private groups to create, deliver and administer in some arbitrary and detached fashion? Maybe those do who have never been seriously threatened by the increase in costs, loss of standard or accessibility because they could pay their way to it but Reader, the day that becomes appropriate or civilised is when everyone has an equal start, equal resources and equal capabilities. Is that even possible? What kind of a country do uber libertarian proponents think she will become as the vast majority of the population is relegated to second-, third- or even no-rate status? Just how long could such a state of affairs actually last? How much country would there be left?
I think the arguments for relying so heavily on the private sector simply don’t wash: they’re tired and misguided; they put profit, ego and power before humanity and service. Now, that may well be the prerogative of private enterprise but it is also a reason why it must be restricted in its influence over governments and its ability to hold the public to ransom.
As a People, do we or don’t we believe that all such services and utilities should be easily accessible and accountable to everyone and maintained at a high and reliable standard, regardless of who you are or where you live in Britain? And if we don’t: why? Is it pure ‘I’m alright, Jack’; a belief in ‘deservedness’ and the ability and right of some to discern it; or the prescribed view that we can’t collectively afford to pay for public ownership? It’s my belief that we can’t afford NOT to. To me, it’s common sense to split the cost between us for those things which are too expensive, impractical or downright impossible for everyone to reliably and responsibly manage as individuals.
However we proceed, this is key: the what and the why come before the how. We can discern the wisdom in our goals by the integrity of our motivation. What do we want and why? Is it justified? Then comes method. Will and Way.