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Voice from the Back

Behind the statistics
We are bombarded today by unemployment statistics but what we may often fail to appreciate is the real human misery behind those figures. “In California, former auto worker Maria Gregg was out of work five months last year before landing a new job –at a nearly 20% pay cut. In Massachusetts, Kevin Cronan, who lost his $150,000-a-year job as a money manager in early 2009, is now frothing cappuccinos at a Starbucks for $8.85 an hour. In Wisconsin, Dale Szabo, a former manufacturing manager with two master’s degrees, has been searching years for a job comparable to the one he lost in 2003. He’s now a school janitor. They are among the lucky. There are 14.5 million people on the unemployment rolls, including 6.4 million who have been jobless for more than six months” (Wall Street Journal, 11 January). Behind the faceless figures of  unemployment are the millions of people like Maria, Kevin and Dale whose standard of living has collapsed and yet have still got to survive with their dependants in the dog-eat-dog society of capitalism.

A sense of values
We live in a society where many are concerned about world hunger, homelessness and rising unemployment, but the British Government have much more important issues to concern themselves with – primogeniture. This deals with the perplexing problem of whether or not if Prince William has a daughter before a son she can become queen. “Luckily the Prime Minister has recognised that this a matter of the deepest seriousness… ‘It is’, said his spokesman, ‘a complex and difficult matter that requires careful and thoughtful consideration…’” (Observer, 23 January). A jobless father of several children might consider his unpaid mortgage a trifle more pressing than primogeniture. In fact he could well ask what the hell is primogeniture anyway?

The widening gap
In an article describing the life of the extremely wealthy and the rest of us the Times recently laid out a list of some of these super-wealthy individuals living at present in London. The Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal worth $6.4 billion, the Russian Alisher Usmanov worth $7.2 billion and the Ukrainian Viktor Pinchuk a mere $3.1 billion. “The extravagance of the super-rich at a time when the vast majority of people are feeling the financial squeeze seems incongruous at best. But the reality is that the gap between the UHNWIs (ultra-high net worth individuals) and the rest is widening. Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, said recently that high-income individuals, banks and corporations had rebounded from the global downturn, while pretty well everyone else struggled…The world’s wealthiest 10 per cent now control 83 per cent of all assets” (Times, 5 February). When even the ultra-conservative Times can report on the widening class differences in capitalism the ultra-rich must be very convinced of the docility of the working class. Fellow workers – wake up!

The National Ill-Health Service
One of the fallacies much beloved of British politicians is that the NHS is a no-expense spared service that provides patients with unbeatable treatment, but the evidence of Aseem Malhotra seems to contradict that claim. “The healthcare that clinicians offer is usually exemplary. Why, then, are the ill served such disgraceful meals? I mend hearts. Then I see my patients served junk food by our hospitals. Fry-ups, burger and chips, fizzy drinks and ice cream for pudding. You would expect to see these delights on the menu at a McDonald’s or Burger King. But, sadly, this is the sort of food that is also likely to be served at your local hospital. I work as a cardiologist at one of Britain’s leading cardiac centres…Coronary artery disease is the biggest killer in the western world and a significant part of my job involves performing a lifesaving procedure, angioplasty, to restore the blood supply to the heart muscle. Coronary atheroma (fatty deposit within the artery wall) takes many years to develop and is the culmination of risk factors, of which lifestyle – and diet in particular – is a major contributor” (Observer, 13 February). Dr Malhotra asks why they are served such meals, but the newspaper provides the answer. “The majority of hospitals spend an average of less than £1 on each meal per patient.”