Beyond Brexit - Tories destroy peoples' lives
by Scott McDonald
The Tory Government, consumed by Brexit and torn apart by its internal divisions, is meanwhile “presiding” over the outcome of decades of capitalist misrule managed by successive British governments led by Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown. Paying the price for this are the majority of the people.
The housing crisis, the increasing problems of the NHS, privatisation and fragmentation of the railways and transport system, savage cuts to public services, the disaster of Universal Credit, the failure of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the low wage and precarious nature of employment are outcomes adversely affecting the lives of millions of people. The wealthy are totally unaffected. In fact, the wealthy are making money out of the crisis. It is not the bankers who have paid the price for the fall-out of the 2008 banking crash.
The Thatcher government introduced the ‘Right to Buy’ council houses. Over the decades since this has culminated in a severe shortage of housing. Council housing was sold off and much of it now is in the hands of private landlords. Most young people cannot afford to buy their own home and, given the grave shortage of affordable social housing and the ludicrously high rents of private accommodation, many live in poverty, are forced to continue to live with their parents or are pushed into homelessness.
The Tory government prevents Local Authorities from borrowing to build council homes on any significant scale. Private developers are happy to restrict house building whilst seeing house prices and rents rise. Private landlords charge exorbitant rents for sub-standard accommodation.
The Grenfell Tower fire tragedy exposed a nationwide problem of the breaching of already weak building regulations, shoddy building and a blatant disregard for people’s health and safety. The Tories, both at a local level in Kensington and at a national level, have shown their contempt for working people by their lengthy delay in re-housing the Grenfell Tower survivors and changing few of the conditions nationwide which led to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.
Everyone, including the Tories, speak of the NHS as the jewel in the fabric of British society. But is it? The NHS is under-resourced, badly managed, subject to privatisation, and a prisoner of the large pharmaceutical companies (“Big Pharma”) as it lurches from crisis to crisis.
Waiting lists are growing, wards in some hospitals are closed for safety reasons, targets consistently fail to be met, a majority of Hospital Trusts have huge debts. Presumably, the unspoken Tory strategy is to allow the NHS to fall deeper into crisis, further discredit it and drive more people into private health care in desperation.
The introduction of Universal Credit to replace the current Benefits system has been an unmitigated disaster. The old system was tortuous, opaque, and often arbitrary but the so-called ‘cure’ of Universal Credit is worse than the disease. It has resulted in people losing money, not being paid for weeks, or in some cases months, and is creating misery for thousands of already poor people, many of whom are working. The penalisation of the disabled is particularly cynical.
The privatisation and fragmentation of the railway system has led to a huge crisis. Commuters, predominantly workers trying to get to work, have been faced with delays, cancellations, breakdowns, over-crowded trains, unintelligible ticket prices, and unworkable timetables.
The drive to take Guards off the trains has been met by welcome resistance by the RMT union and the public, and has forced some of the rail companies to retreat from this profit-seeking threat to safety.
The recent increase in rail fares brought an outcry from the public, especially since £1 billion has been paid out to shareholders by the private rail companies over the last six years.
PRIVATE FINANCE INITIATIVE
The collapse of Carillion and the severe problems facing the companies Interserve and Capita have brought to the surface the unmitigated disaster of the Private Finance Initiative, which morphed into the Public-Private Partnership under New Labour. Huge amounts of public money have been poured into these private companies, which creamed much of it off into vast profits and bonuses for their executives. Carillion was the second biggest construction firm in the UK. Its collapse resulted in massive job losses, a huge hole in its pension scheme of some £1billion and suspension of building contracts.
The National Audit Office revealed that some PFI contracts are costing the public 40% more than would have been the case had public money been used directly.
The drive to increase numbers going into Higher Education to an unprecedented level has meant that many graduates end up in jobs for which they are over-qualified. It has also led to the introduction of student fees, saddling thousands of young people with unsustainable debt. Universities have been turned into institutions driven by financial not educational considerations.
The Tories have not given up their ambition to reintroduce grammar schools as they continue their support for academies and subsidies for private education at the expense of the state system.
There has been a draconian reduction in apprenticeships over many years leading to a shortage of skilled labour in those industries which still exist.
The development of the ‘gig economy’ has seen the development of the casualisation of work, increasingly precarious jobs, de-skilling, low wages and zero-hours contracts. Many large companies have out-sourced a lot of their employees to recruitment agencies leading to divergences in pay and conditions for workers doing the same job. This individualises workers and makes it more difficult for trade unions to organise. These workers are very vulnerable and, without trade unions, subject to poor conditions and low wages.
The Tories, playing the racism card, have made the reduction of immigration one of their flagship policies. It has failed miserably, not least due to the fact that many employers, including the state, use migrants in low paid jobs. There is a contradiction here for the Tories, as the party of business, managing a capitalist system dependent on migrant labour.
“Undocumented migrant workers are particularly, although not exclusively, vulnerable. As the ex-Director General of Immigration Enforcement, Will Smith, told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in October 2017, ‘There’s probably over a million foreigners here illegally at the moment’. These workers are forced to live an ‘underground’ existence and are subject to appalling exploitation, forced labour and worse…” (1)
However, it is not just gang-masters who ruthlessly exploit immigrants. Some 80% of UK employers now sub-contract parts of their business. Recruitment agencies have grown three-fold since 2012 with the total number now at a record high of more than 27,000. This has led to the reduction of employment standards and security for workers and it is not just immigrants who suffer from this race to the bottom.
The recent Windrush scandal, in which the Tory government deported to the Caribbean people who had been living in Britain for decades, was yet another example of the government’s racism and desperation to show that they are intent on reducing immigrant numbers. It led to Amber Rudd’s resignation as Home Secretary although, as a loyal ally of Mrs May, she returned to the Cabinet six months later to become Work and Pensions Secretary.
The Tory government may wish to be seen to be against immigrants and are certainly happy to allow them to take the blame for many societal problems such as the housing shortage, but meanwhile many capitalist employers are “pragmatic” in their pursuit of profit and the reduction of labour costs and will not hesitate to abuse migrants or anyone else for this purpose.
(1) Wilkinson, Mick, “Modern slavery: the neoliberal UK model”, The Socialist Correspondent, Issue 31, Summer 2018.