It seems quite poignant that as our NHS appears threatened, essential Sunday night* viewing looks at its infancy. I’ve been fascinated by early contraception clinics and the compromises made during home births. What has most stood out to me has been not only an attitude of getting on with things but an appreciation for developments. At one point in an early episode a doctor points out that ten years ago none of this was possible.
The NHS was launched in 1948 with Bevan, the Secretary of State for Health announcing “we now have the moral leadership of the world.” Big words but I agree with the sentiment. As it happens I’m not a big advocate for the idea of human rights. I’m not convinced that humanity is so intrinsically special that we are entitled to anything.
What I do subscribe to however, is the idea of societal standards. When you look at Americas Poor (link to Panorama documentary: Poor America), one can’t help but be at least a little repulsed by the right wingers who deny the extent of the problem. I do think however, that as the decades pass we have become soft. When I hear of my Grandparents standard of living when they were newly married (in the 1950s) I am sometimes a little taken aback. I take hot running water for granted and struggle to imagine my comfortably off and fond of his luxuries Grandad dragging the tin bath up the stairs so they could have a proper wash.
In the documentary is a family living in a motel room. It sounds bloody tough and I’d hate to be in that situation. But my Grandfather grew up sharing a bed with his three brothers. Not because they were impoverished so much as that was rather normal back then. Yes there are examples that are truly awful such as the couple living in the drains but the fact that it is 300-400 people in a city as vast as Las Vegas makes for a tiny percentage. Please don’t think I lack empathy, I think any amount of homelessness points to a society that needs vast improvement but the figures do matter.
Of course the crux of the problem is health provision. I passionately believe that America has got it very very wrong. I don’t believe that in any developed nation a life saving operation shouldn’t be paid for by the tax payer. If someone needs their appendix out then cut the damn thing out! Surely this has to be the very definition of a civilised society, the prevention of easily avoided death.
In my first politics tutorial as a wide-eyed undergraduate we were asked the measure of a developed nation. Most people favoured GDP but I wasn’t convinced and posed the idea of the quality of life of the poorest person in that society. I think it was the single-most intelligent contribution I ever made in a tutorial and of course one the lecturer was hoping for. So while I reject human rights I nevertheless am a political scientist with a focus on everyone in a society. From day one I have disliked GDP and have argued in favour of topics such as citizen confidence and level playing fields.
However, what I consider acceptable seems to offend so many of those the husband and I tend to label bleeding heart liberals. You see, my societal standards essentially extend to a few brief points:
1) A roof over your head at night and a place to sleep that offers basic lumbar support and sufficient warmth to maintain health.
2) Access to hot water and the ability to keep oneself and ones clothing clean.
3) To never feel the gnawing pain of hunger.
4) To receive all necessary medical care in physical terms and a certain degree of medical care in psychological terms.
5) Freedom from violence and abuse (in all its forms).
6) Sufficient free education to provide those with the determination and drive to be able to fulfil their potential.
My standards are perhaps more noteworthy by what I don’t consider necessary. I don’t think a shared washroom in a hostel that houses several households is unacceptable. I am more in favour of plentiful emergency housing in the way of women’s refuges than I am of families being rehomed because their house is “cramped.”
My beliefs stem from the idea that things need to be paid for somehow. While I want to live in a society where no premature baby dies from lack of adequate resources, I think that every child having his or her own bedroom is something to aim for rather than being a requisite. I fully support a benefits cap of £26,000 per household because I know I could manage my family on that including our mortgage and all bills. It would be a massive drop in lifestyle but it could be done.
The problem as I see it is that our aging population is going to be an increasing drain on resources and choices need to be made. Choices are already made. To my eyes the treatment my father got was hugely different from the treatment my grandmother got when they each contracted and died from cancer. My father’s case was a tragedy, my grandmother’s simply very sad and a touch untimely.
I think the bill is wrong. But something needs to be done and I’d like to see more alternatives. I think there are very few Tories who aren’t at least a bit incredulous as to what is being proposed but nobody seems to be talking about the fact that something needs doing!
Put simply we can’t have everything but rather than offer a counter point, most people seem to be in denial about it. Where is the alternative?
* More like Tuesday afternoon for me since the husband isn’t really into that kind of thing. I didn’t notice but apparently Joan gets a bit more demure when she gets married and for this reason Mad Men began to lose its appeal for him. In fairness to him, the husband has wide a wide variety of tastes but generally there needs to be a decent geeky element, zombies or something to perve over.