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Voice From the Back

Sick report (1)
When the Labour Party were swept to power in 1997, one of the issues that they stressed was how they would run the National Health Service much better than the Conservative Party. Alas, it was just another empty promise:

"The crisis in the National Health Service is forcing unprecedented numbers of patients to buy private treatment. In a massive vote of no confidence in the NHS, which Tony Blair's government has insisted is not in serious trouble, the number of people paying for private operations has risen by about 40 percent since the 1997 elections" (Observer, 19 March).

Sick report (2)
Another example of how well the NHS is doing under the caring Labour government has recently come to light:

"A woman suffering from hepatitis C has been denied potentially life-saving treatment by a health authority, even though she is believed to have contracted the virus during a NHS operation. Patricia Greed, who says that she was affected after a 1981 blood transfusion, has been told by Avon Health Authority that the drug Ribavirin is too expensive" (Times, 20 March).

Be rich like the Queen Mother and have more hip replacements than working-class knock-backs at the dole queue; be poor and watch your mother suffering from lack of medical attention. The whole thing makes us a little sick. How about you?

We can save them
There are over 170,000 registered charities in Britain today. In the main they are trying to deal with the poverty that capitalism inevitably produces. The organisation Plan International UK is an example of this misguided compassion. For £12 a month you can sponsor a child in one of the underdeveloped countries. In a heart-rending appeal leaflet they state:

"in the developing world, innocent children are dying—together we can save them. Throughout Africa, Latin America and large areas of Asia it is a stark fact that thousands of children are dying from malnutrition and disease. For the survivors, life is unimaginably hard. From a very early age they have to work all day every day. Their water is dirty, their food is scarce and medicine unobtainable."

It is true of course that "we can save them", but not by propping up the buying-and-selling system with charity. It is a "stark fact" that the children are suffering because their parents cannot afford to buy the basic necessities of life. In socialism all food, clothing and shelter will be produced solely for use not profit; that is "how we can save them".

The logic of capitalism
In a report on International Water Day we read that the Second World Water Forum estimates that one billion people world-wide lack safe drinking water and three billion do not have adequate sanitation:

"Officials from 130 countries disappointed experts and activists by failing to declare the resource a human right at the end of the Second World Water Forum. They avoided concrete measures to ensure clean water for the world's growing population, agreeing instead on a set of guidelines for governments. 'If you say it's a human right, you change the whole framework,' said activist Maude Barlow. 'Then you can't trade it as a commodity and make a profit'" (The Herald, 23 March).

It's not only socialists that can see through the madness that is capitalism where people have to pay for a basic human need like water, but unlike Barlow we don't imagine that it could be otherwise under capitalism. If everyone is to have free access to clean water this will not be achieved by pleading with our rulers to make this a so-called right.

Writer's cramp
Living on a Job Seeker's Allowance, a minimum wage of £3.60 or even, for argument's sake, £30,000 per year, it is very difficult to imagine the enormity of the wealth enjoyed by the very rich. The American, Bill Bryson, in his book Notes from a Big Country, gives a mind-boggling illustration that gives you some idea of the wealth involved:

"If you initialled one dollar per second, you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After 12 days of non-stop effort you would acquire your first $1 million. Thus it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million and 1,200 days—something over three years—to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years, you would be a billionaire, and after almost a thousand years you would be as wealthy as Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft."