Thursday, June 14, 2007

growth is good

Via Dr David Wall, principle male speaker of the Green Party, I found a website called 'Green the health service'.

It mentions, amongst other things, the disgusting lack of investing in caring for elderly people. This prompts aquestion - not a rhetorical one or one intended just to score partisan points.

The Green Party calls for lots and lots more funding for the health service from the public sector, and certainly not any private sector involvement. They also have a policy of opposing economic growth, because economic growth is unsustainable and pro-growth policies contribute unacceptably to climate change. (These are both summaries, but fair ones, right?)

The problem is that these two policies clash in fairly drastic ways. In the short term, it is possible to find lots more money for the health service, whether it be by scrapping Trident, not building roads, halting airport expansions, taxing polluters more heavily or whatever. It would also be possible to reallocate funds within the current health service budget to spend less on management consultants and more on care for the elderly, say. Of course, there are also other things that they would like to spend money on, but leave that to one side for the moment.

Of all the public services, the health service is probably the one where the year-on-year costs inevitably increase, even without providing any new services. The cost of new drugs, the need to care for an ageing population, the need to build new hospitals with the latest facilities (while obviously never ever closing any existing hospitals, no matter how outmoded they may be).

But no growth in the economy means no more money to pay for any of these things. The one-off savings help a bit, but in the medium term the consequences are a healthcare system which is increasingly underfunded. Even the Tories never tried year on year with no growth of health spending at all, and eighteen years of Thatcher and Major left nurses on the breadline, decrepit hospitals, vast health inequalities and lengthy waiting times for operations.

So what I'm wondering is which way the Greens would go when it came to the clash. Is the priority to stick to no growth policies and prioritise sustainability, even if it means big real terms cuts in public spending and the welfare state? Or, to put it another way, even if it means continuing and increasing the disgusting lack of care for elderly people?


At 8:48 pm , Blogger Hughes Views said...

It's simple (haven't you read Dr Wall's blog banner? He declares that it's all simple!).

Under the policies proposed by the more radical Greens we'd all be living in unheated homes (tepees are especially sustainable) with no fresh food in winter. Life expectancy would soon drop to third world or British eighteenth century levels (ie circa 38) so there'd be hardly any old folk to take care of. Sorted...

At 6:31 pm , Blogger Stuart Jeffery said...

Hi Don,

Relying on economic growth to increase health care spending is a very short term fix. Continued economic growth is unsustainable in the long term for all the reasons that the Greens point out. When it comes to funding health care from economic growth you can only do it for a short time. As society grows richer, more money has to ploughed into health care wages to ensure equity and to keep the work force. Unless you change the proportions of GDP spending you never really address the problem and GDP proportions can be changed without overall economic growth - as you point out.

Currently the UK spends a phenomenally low proportion of its money on health care in comparison to other countries. The US spends around 15% of GDP on health care, the UK 9%. The UK is still behind much of the EU too.

We also have a massive amount of waste with the pseudo market and private sector involvement. At least 10% of current spend could be saved by abandoning the reforms of the last 15 years. The NHS was the most efficient as well as being world beating on 6% of GDP - the 50% increase has been largely wasted.



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