Voice From the Back

The death rate from cold in Britain is higher than in Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Greece . . . Every winter 26,596 elderly people die in London alone—3,129 in every million-compared to 2,457 in Northern Finland. Evening Mail, 19 September.

Britain is not the only country in which the government and charities help to keep wages too low to live on: “According to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which supplies food to about 420 pantries in the region, roughly 12 percent of the population, or 150,000 people, used a food pantry last year. ‘Half of the adults who get food from us are working,’ said David Sharken, executive director of the food bank. ‘It is a hidden part of this economy. The hidden part is that, while there are jobs and the unemployment rate is fairly low, the kind of jobs that most people have found, for the most part, have no benefits or health care.’ The increased use of food pantries has kept in lockstep with the progress of the Welfare Reform Bill, which went into effect in Massachusetts in 1996 and gave able-bodied welfare recipients two years to find jobs before they were cut off from state cash assistance.” Berkshire Eagle, 15 September.

The suffering, degradation and death that lies behind capitalism’s glitzy exterior of modernisation and progress is exposed when the facts are analysed: “More than 800 million people, 13 percent of the world’s population, suffer from hunger and disease linked to malnutrition, the UN Food and Agriculture said in a report released yesterday.” Herald, 16 September.

The workers of the world are, according to a United Nations report, united in just one thing these days: record levels of stress. What is more, the report warns, anxiety levels are set to dramatically increase in the coming years as globalisation continues its relentless march, and the economic costs for business will be massive. In a landmark survey examining stress in the workplace in five countries, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) found that levels of anxiety, burnout and depression are spiralling out of control. The problem is costing employers billions of pounds in sick leave and lost working time, and often leaves frayed employees grappling with a series of complex mental disorders for years afterwards. Guardian, 12 October.

The coastal dustbin
The catalogue of disasters revealed by the recent survey carried out on the UK coastal waters by the World Wide Fund for Nature should frighten even the staunchest supporter of capitalism: “All the coastal habitats studied have been extensively damaged, ripped up and reclaimed for development—and two thirds of our fish stocks are over-exploited and heading towards commercial extinction. Many mud flats are so polluted by ‘gender-bender’ man-made chemicals, that male flounder are now displaying female characteristics and even producing eggs. There are serious concerns over plankton, one of the world’s most important sources of oxygen, a vital carbon sink, and the basis of all marine food chains.” (Herald, 20 September.) All of these problems could be solved inside socialism, but in capitalism, a society whose only drive is to make profits, the problems just intensify.

We’ve had Thatcher’s “Land of Opportunity”, Major’s “Classless Society” and Blair’s “Third Way”. But behind the glossy promises what is the reality? “Narrowing the gap between rich and poor could prevent as many as 10,000 premature deaths each year in Britain, according to a report published yesterday. Even a modest redistribution of wealth, restoring inequalities back to their 1983 levels, could save 7,500 under-65s a year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report says. Many studies have shown that poverty, unemployment and disadvantage lead to poor health and earlier death. These inequalities have been widening in recent years.” Times, 26 September.

Globalising medicine
Just as it is cheaper to produce running shoes in Asia or Africa, so it is proving cheaper and more “efficient” to conduct clinical trials of drugs in the developing world . . . Given this looser environment, some researchers, particularly in America, have been conducting studies they could not get away with at home. Particularly appalling is the fact that such studies are increasingly backed by the very institutions who in their own nations are the watchdogs of public health . . . Debate has been fuelled by Public Citizens 1997 exposure of unethical Aids research in Africa and Asia under the auspices of US National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Thousands of pregnant women with HIV were given placebos rather than AZT, known to be an effective medication . . . “Putting it bluntly,” says Dr Lurie, “as elsewhere in the globalising economy, we are witnessing a race to the ethical bottom.” Guardian, 5 October.

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