Commentary on and analysis of recent political events

Merry Christmas.

The New Statesman reports on Britain’s new Victorianism whereby the filthy rich get filthier rich and that the poor get poorer. Just in case you haven’t realised, we are most definitely not all in this together.

We are re-living a traditional Victorian Christmas – of excess for the few and struggle for the many

Like the Victorian poor, Britons on low and middle incomes are often treated as a different caste of people to those which in the nineteenth century were called the “upper ten thousand” and are now the “super rich” 0.1%. The practice of sacrificing workers’ need for reliable incomes to the desire of employers to have flexibility is spreading – through zero-hours contracts and false self-employment – up the income scale. This is reflected in how our incomes are described: too often, the business pages of refer to the pay of the 0.1% as “reward” (they are valuable creatures to be nurtured and thanked) whereas the rest of us are “labour costs”.

At the other end of the scale, the rich are getting richer. The UK’s 1,000 wealthiest people last year got richer by £35bn: they now have assets, on average, of £450m each. London now boasts the world’s most expensive home, and we are seeing the return of the butler. The share of national income that the top 1% get fell throughout most of the 20th century, but is again heading towards Victorian levels.

And this new gentry are not, for the most part, talented hard-working who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. As in the Victorian era, the rich are the privileged offspring of privileged parents. The UK has one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world. A child whose parents send them to private school is 11 times more likely to go on to run a major company than his state-school equivalent, and 30 times more likely to become a high-court judge.

Martin Robbins reports on Cameron and the illiberal Con-Dem coalition government’s progress in censoring the internet. He asks what the porn filter is all about? I think that you can see what was intended by looking at the consequences: it was intended to censor huge swathes of the internet and allow only a prudish flaccid anodyne vacuity and it was intended to disempower individuals so that using the internet should be passive like watching television.

Cameron’s internet filter goes far beyond porn – and that was always the plan

As Wired reported back in July, Cameron’s ambitions extended far beyond porn. Working through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the coalition has put in place a set of filters and restrictions as ambitious as anything this side of China, dividing the internet into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ categories, and cutting people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

“As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on “violent material”, “extremist related content”, “anorexia and eating disorder websites” and “suicide related websites”, “alcohol” and “smoking”. But the list doesn’t stop there. It even extends to blocking “web forums” and “esoteric material”, whatever that is. “Web blocking circumvention tools” is also included, of course.”

And the restrictions go further still. Over the weekend, people were appalled to discover that BT filters supported homophobia, with a category blocking, “sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptive, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.”

It was never really clear what the so-called porn filter was supposed to achieve; what problem it was trying to prevent. Filtering seems to have become a crutch for inept parents looking for an easy way to avoid having real conversations with their kids about sex, porn and the world outside their comfortable little cul-de-sacs. If their first sight of a vagina traumatizes your teenage child, then you have brought them up wrong – but of course the problem here is often the parent more than the child; the embarrassed mother of father – projecting their own feelings of discomfort and embarrassment around the topic of sex onto their child. There remains, despite a wave of public hysteria, no good evidence that porn has any detrimental effect on children.

What clearly does have an impact on children though is denying them sex education, suppressing their sexual identity, and shutting off access to child protection or mental health charities. In all this talk of porn filters, the rights of the children campaigners supposedly want to protect have been ignored or trampled. Children should have a right to good quality sex education, access to support hotlines and websites, and information about their sexuality.

Chris Grayling and the illiberal Con-Dem Conservative coalition government are accused of being petty and killjoys for banning prisoners from receiving gifts from friends and families.

 

Prisoners Won’t Receive Parcels This Christmas

Convicted prisoners will not be able to receive parcels from their loved ones this Christmas under new rules introduced by the Government.

The rules forbid prisoners from receiving any items in the post unless there are “exceptional circumstances”.

The new measures were introduced in November, meaning this is the first Christmas for which the new rules will be in effect.

A Prison Service spokesperson confirmed the rule change, saying it was part of a raft of Government reforms.

But Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “These new mean and petty prison rules just add stress and strain while doing nothing to promote rehabilitation and personal responsibility.”

OurNHS in 2013 – some highlights

OurNHS is on a publishing break until the New Year. Why not check out some of our stories you may have missed?

Dr Clare Gerada, outgoing Chair of the Royal College of GPs, asks ‘What do we want – a good doctor, or “patient choice”?’ 

How did we get here? Marcus Chown explains in The great NHS robbery.

Could young doctors have done more to fight NHS ‘reforms’, asks Guddi Singh in Asleep on the job – young doctors and the NHS reforms.

Dr Jacky Davis questions the media presentation of hospital deaths.

Dr David Zigmond challenges the poor quality of decision making in the new NHS structures in ‘NHS decisions, Eurovision-style’. Richard Grimes wonders whether the Deregulation Bill is even more worrying than the Lobbying Bill in ‘A Bonfire of Citizens’ Rights’.

OurNHS editor Caroline Molloy investigates the rising threat of NHS charges in Zombie policies walking into Downing Street, the scandal of Peterborough Hospital and the PFI racket and asks ’What is G4S doing in England’s NHS’? She also exposes how predictions of compulsory tendering are coming true, and how the NHS pays millions to end contracts which have put patient lives at risk.

In The Race to Privatise England’s NHS Paul Evans of the NHS Supporters Federation lays bare just how many contracts are going out to the private sector.

In ‘The NHS and dog whistle politics’, Dr Kamliz Boomla highlights the problems of charging migrants for the NHS, and Shibley Rahman asks whether we should be worried about personal budgets in ‘Shop til you drop’.

The sale of personal medical data to private interests is exposed in “Your medical data – on sale for a pound” by Phil Booth of MedConfidential.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaks out on the sell-off of NHS land.

Clive Peedell (National Health Action Party Leader) tells us how David Cameron has lied about his intention to privatise the NHS.

Rachael Maskell, Unite National Officer for health, highlights the scandal of low pay in the NHS & the NHS’s electoral impact.

Ex-Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green sets out how the health and welfare ‘reforms’ are failing children.

Professor Dexter Whitfield asks should we turn the NHS into mutual and co-ops?, Professor Rosemary Mander questions whether charities are losing their way in healthcareand Andrew Robertson of Social Investigations exposed how the charity sector has lobbied for NHS privatisation.

Professor Marianna Fotaki of the Centre for Health & the Public Interest suggests the NHS learn from how privatisation has damaged social care.

Dr Kailash Chand OBE urges Labour to ‘Shout from the rooftops’ to save the NHS, Grahame Morris MP of the Health Select Committee) exposes how privatisation is harming Freedom of Information and Roger Kline asks if private sector secrecy will stop the NHS becoming more open.

In 2013 OurNHS was the first to highlight and promote campaigns including the privatisation (Section 75) regulations, the EU/US Free Trade Treatyand the Hospital Closure clause.  

We recently launched an up-to-date resource guide, the most comprehensive collection of the best NHS campaigning resources on the Web, and hope to build on our work supporting grassroots campaigners.

2014 will be a big year for NHS campaigning. There are big questions to address on healthcare funding, charging, cuts and privatisation, and democratic accountability. OurNHS wants to continue to ensure a range of progressive and sometimes challenging voices are heard in the debate.

OurNHS continues to campaign hard for an ‘NHS restoration bill’ to restore the Secretary of State’s duty to secure a comprehensive health service, abolished by the 2012 Health & Social Care Act.

See you in 2014!

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