Orders of the Day — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:12 pm on 1st December 1993.

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Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston 7:12 pm, 1st December 1993

I want to consider the interaction between health and the Budget. In particular, I want to look at the direct damage that is caused to people's health by the Government's deliberate actions. Earlier the Secretary of State for Social Security bewailed the doubling of the number of people on sickness benefit and invalidity benefit since 1979. He said that that had happened although "the nation is getting healthier". Clearly he accuses a large number of people of malingering.

The Secretary of State's answer is to look for devices to disallow benefits and claims. Not only does he think that people are malingering—apparently he thinks that doctors are conniving at it. On the contrary, the number of people on sickness benefit reflects a real increase in illness. The nation cannot be said to be getting healthier when the number of people claiming sickness benefit has doubled in 14 years. Certainly the nation is getting more polarised so that the rich and the fortunate become even more rich and fortunate, and the poor get poorer.

Fourteen years of Tory government are making people sick in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense. But what if the Secretary of State were right? Why does he not ask himself why 14 years of Tory government should produce a nation of malingerers? Surely there is something wrong with that as well. Why were people not so sick or so given to malingering in 1979 as they are after 14 years of Tory government? Could it possibly have something to do with bad housing, a lack of jobs, insecurity and casualisation of work, more money worries and more stress, and a culture of cruelty deliberately induced by the Government which encourages the weak and the vulnerable to be pushed to one side and enshrines greed and selfishness? Could that have produced the situation that the Secretary of State bewails?

Government supporters sometimes say that the national health service is a sort of bottomless bucket which will require limitless resources. That will be true if we continue to have a Government who damage people's health with their savage social policies. Bad housing is a major cause of bad health, especially respiratory diseases which are increasing, stress-related illnesses and mental breakdowns. In Preston, I see many children suffering directly from inadequate housing. I see many babies and toddlers who never seem to have been properly well.

What is the Chancellor's response to the housing crisis? He has looked at housing as an area in which to make what he calls savings. He has even cut the resources that go to his chosen instrument, the housing associations. Housing associations were supposed to be able to provide social housing so much better than local authorities. The Chancellor cut local authority housing, and he has now cut resources for housing associations. He says that that will produce savings. However, it is the most crass and cruel false economy. The cut in housing finance epitomises the Budget. We will need to continue spending more on picking up the casualties which the Government have created.

What are the Government doing to the national health service? With a twin-track strategy, they are creating a situation in which there is no boundary between the public health sector and the private health sector. We have gone far beyond the simple contracting out of health jobs. Public money is being used to buy treatment in private hospitals, and people are driven to private insurance to get treatment in public hospitals. In both those cases, public health suffers, and public facilities are abused by the process. I regard it as contrary to the philosophy of the national health service.

On the one hand, the Government are making people more ill by making their social conditions worse and, on the other hand, they are making it harder for people to get the treatment that they need when inevitably they become casualties. When the Government look at the number of people who are claiming benefits and the doctors who are signing the sick claims, they say, "There are too many of them." They ask not how they will correct the situation, but how they will push people to one side. What new scrap heap will be created for those people to inhabit?

The Budget, for which we are all supposed to be so grateful, is a disgrace. In 1993, it is a disgrace that the biggest boast of the Government who have been in power for 14 years is that they have not increased taxes on food or children's clothes. Their claim to fame is that we were all trembling that they might tax books, clothes or food. We are supposed to be overcome with gratitude that those things have not happened and that families' conditions will not be worsened in that way. I noticed today that one tabloid even spoke of "Santa Clarke". Santa Claus's mantle sits ill on the figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.