The Health of the Nation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:32 pm on 22nd October 1992.

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Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon , Halifax 6:32 pm, 22nd October 1992

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) on their elevation to the Front Bench. We have a new team, who I think will do a first-class job for the party. I was impressed by the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Brightside.

I should declare my education. I did a degree at Bradford university and spent 11 years working in the national health service, which may explain the different approach of myself and the Secretary of State. The White Paper is an attractive publication, and if I were giving the Government marks out of 10 on how it looks they would be reasonably high. If I were giving marks for its content, they would be fairly low, because it is fairly lightweight and skirts around many of the issues that we believe to be important.

What is not included in the document is vital to the health of the nation. My hon. Friend the Member for Brightside mentioned Beveridge. Fifty years ago, in 1942, when Beveridge drew up the famous plan that gave birth to the national health service, he outlined what he saw as the five giant evils of the day—want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The NHS was to be part of the attack on those evils, particularly on disease. However, he made it clear in his report that they were all linked. He knew that one could not attack disease without attacking how people spent their lives, what they ate, how they were educated and how they fed, housed and clothed themselves.

On publication day in 1942, a mile-long queue formed outside the Government bookshop in central London and around 70,000 copies were sold within hours. Three weeks after publication, a Gallup poll found that 19 out of 20 adults had heard of the Beveridge report and that most approved of its recommendations. It touched the heart of the nation, which awoke to the content of the report like a slumbering giant. People stirred and voted for a Labour Government, who introduced the national health service, and we should never forget that.

We are witnessing a similar phenomenon today with the Government's callous and inhumane treatment of the miners. Yesterday, we saw the Government's hatred of anything collectivist or anything to do with communities. The Government should be fearful of the mood that is abroad, which we witnessed yesterday. Since they announced the pit closures, we have seen what I, as an old trade unionist, would call a massive failure to agree between the people of this country and the Government. The British people will put the national interest first, whereas the Government will put first their idol—the market.

The report is a wasted opportunity. How can any document on the health of the nation fail to address such issues as poverty, low income, bad housing, homelessness and unemployment? Page 26 of the document mentions healthy cities, healthy schools, healthy hospitals, healthy workplaces and healthy homes", but fails to offer any solution to the housing crisis, so it is worth nothing. It does not acknowledge that the housing crisis is the worst since after the war. Halifax is not the poorest town in the country by any means, but almost 7,000 people are waiting to be housed by the council. An average of 100 families are made homeless every week, and young people sleep rough or on somebody's settee.

The White Paper could have begun research into homelessness to find out exactly how many people are suffering from it, but it chose not to do so. It could have considered the inner cities and how many unemployed people experience had health because of the stress of unemployment. It could have undertaken research into the inadequacy of the benefit system.