The Chancellor's Autumn Statement gave little cause for hope or optimism. We heard that economic growth will be lower than expected, investment is down, Government borrowing is up (£122 Billion), inflation is set to rise. There has been a lot of talk recently of the Government’s desire to support those who are just about managing (the JAMs) well I have to say that there was little evidence of action to back the warm words. The National Living Wage will rise next year and while this is welcome it is nowhere near enough. The Independent Living Wage foundation have calculated that employees and their families need at least £8.45 hour to live in 2016 therefore to put the hourly rate up to £7.50 in 2017 is hardly cause to celebrate and makes a mockery of Theresa May’s promise to make work pay. It is indeed a bleak picture: public services are in crisis, there is no new money for the NHS, funding for social care, education and in-work benefits continues to fall. Two things particularly shocked me: firstly the cuts to Universal Credit for working people are to be cut to the tune of £2300 per family per year. In one foul swoop this makes 2.5 million families poorer. Secondly it is unforgivable that there was not one single mention in the statement of the NHS or social care. The NHS is in the midst of the worse funding crisis in its history, one million old people have no social care and the chancellor didn’t give a single extra penny to help. He did however manage to cut corporation tax to help big companies. I know that a lot of you will agree that the Government has got its priorities a bit confused to say the least.
It is a fact that most people want to work to support themselves and their families. Trying to find employment can be difficult enough but is more so for those who have some impairment. With this in mind I was really pleased to sponsor an event at Turf Moor designed to encourage local companies and organisations to be open minded and confident about employing disabled people. The event, which was organised by the Department for Work and Pensions was well attended and I was pleased to be there.
As part of the Shadow Health team I now find myself knee deep in the detail of the day to day business of the NHS. Some of the stuff that comes to my attention has been an eye opener: last week it was the patient records lost in transit by a private company and this week the antics of another company came to my attention. This time it concerned GP referals to consultants. The company in question is being employed to ration access to medical specialists and in so doing overrule the clinical opinion of the GP. My concern first and foremost is that as a consequence serious conditions may well go undiagnosed and untreated. It also occurred to me that this is no way to treat highly trained professionals. No wonder we are struggling to recruit and retain GPs!