Posts Tagged ‘Public Health’

Book Defending Health and Safety Legislation

September 14, 2016

Spokesman also publish Safe at Work? Ramazzini versus the Attack on Health and Safety, by Dave Putson, with an introduction by Mark Serwotka. This is a defence of health and safety legislation against the attacks and derision with which it’s now regarded. Putson shows that such legislation comes from the real need to protect people against injury, illness or deaths at work. He also criticises Tories like David Cameron, who’d like to get rid of it all as a burden to private industry. The blurb for it on Spokesman’s website, taken from Serwotka’s introduction, runs

‘This is an important time to write the history of health and safety in the UK, given the near derision that the term now evokes in the media and from the Government. What Dave Putson demonstrates in writing this book is that health and safety, far from being the product of a more litigious society or the political agenda of overbearing bureaucrats, is rooted in human need, protecting people.

This book describes how, over the last 300 years, an evolving body of surveys, research, legal challenges and often tragic experiences led to an emergence of, at first, quite limited protections. Some of these histories will be familiar to the reader, like the match girls and ‘phossy jaw’, but others, like the seminal legal case of Priestley vs Fowler, are not. What the varied and fascinating histories indicate is that health and safety evolved to improve not only the workplace, but also our homes, our communities, our roads, our waterways, and public and environmental health …

Today, there are desperate attempts to reverse those gains. Our Prime Minister echoes the worst of the 19th century’s irresponsible industrialists when he says health and safety is an ‘albatross around the neck of British businesses’. The burden to take reasonable and practical steps to ensure workers can come home at night is what Cameron objects to when he says he wants to “kill off the health and safety culture for good”. Despite this supposedly rampant culture, the HSE records that around 175 people died in 2011/12 from injuries sustained at work while, according to the Hazards campaign, up to 50,000 die each year from work-related illnesses, including 6,000 from occupational cancers.

Workers only got these rights and protections because they organised and fought for them. It is a depressing but familiar tale of history that, today, we need to fight those same battles again. I hope you enjoy reading this detailed, fascinating and engaging history as much as I did. But most importantly, I hope it inspires you to think and to act.’

The situation is all the more urgent, with Theresa May’s government planning to scrap the European Human Rights legislation, and replace it with a British ‘Bill of Rights’, which will be far weaker in protecting British citizens from state surveillance, arrest and detention by the authorities, workers’ rights and so on.
Cameron and his fellow profiteers want to see a cheap labour force with no rights, who they can sack as they please, and force to work in appalling conditions without any legal protection. As an example of how terrible conditions were before the introduction of health and safety legislation, at the time of the First World War more people were killed at work in Britain than in the trenches. That’s the reality, which the Tories and papers like the Daily Fail won’t tell you when they bang on with scare stories about looney councils forcing children to wear goggles while playing conkers or whatever.

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G.D.H. Cole on the Nationalisation of the Utility Industries

March 22, 2016

I found these arguments for the nationalisation of the utility industries in G.D.H. Cole’s 1942 book, Great Britain in the Post-War World (London: Victor Gollancz).

Road and Rail

But these two types by no means exhaust the list of industries and processes which call for early socialisation. The third group consists of industries which, though they include too many separate units to fall under the first group, have nevertheless been shown by practical experience to be incapable of serving the public interest under private enterprise. The outstanding member of this group is the coal industry, which, unable to create a monopoly by its own efforts, has been erected into a private monopoly by legislation, under conditions which have improved its own profits without providing any better for the public service. To this group belong also the public utility services – railways, electricity, gas and water-which are, like the coal industry, so essential to the satisfactory working of the other industries and services and to the health and comfort of the community that inefficiency in their conduct is intolerable and their exploitation for private profit plainly against the public interest. the industries and services in this group are already in various stages of transition from private to public control. The railways resemble the coal industry, in that they have been erected into a virtual monopoly by legislation, after having failed to achieve monopoly by their own efforts. they differ from coal in that no sooner had the State made them into a capitalist monopoly than this monopoly began to break down on account of the developing competition of road transport. But this, so far from improving the situation from the public standpoint, has led to chaotic competition between the rival means of carriage. The railways, tied down by rate-fixing regulations which were intended as safeguards against the abuse of their monopoly, have been unable to adapt their rate structure so as to achieve a sensible distribution of traffic between road and rail in accordance with relative costs; and the road transport agencies, having begun to threaten the railways with bankruptcy, have in their turn been hobbled by restrictive licensing regulations designed to prevent them from capturing from the railways the amount of traffic which would have gone by road under conditions of unrestricted competition.

There appears to be no way out of this impasse but by co-ordination between the two transport agencies, so as to provide a single carrying concern which will transport goods by road or rail according to its own judgement of expediency and cost. But it is clearly out of the question to place this power of judgement in the hands of a profit-seeking monopoly; and there is accordingly a clear case for the unification of both forms of transport under public ownership and control.

Water

Of the public utilities, usually so called, water supply is pre-eminently a public health service, though it is also of great importance to industry. It is already for the most part in public hands; and the problem which it presents is mainly that of extending adequate supplies of pure water to those areas of the country which are at present without them- mainly the rural areas. This clearly will not be done by private enterprise: nor is private enterprise a likely way of ensuring that proper use is made of local resources before water is brought from a distance, or of securing a right allocation of distant sources between rival claimants. It is, moreover, a clear point of principle that public health services ought to be publicly operated and not made the sport of private interests.

Electricity

Electricity supply is already partly socialised, under the Central Electricity Board, which controls main-line transmission; and a large part of the business both of generation and of retail distribution of current to consumers is already under municipal control. But there remain both a number of large private Power Companies, generating current which is sold both to big industrial consumers and to municipal and private distributors, and also a large number of interlocked private companies engaged in generation and distribution. In addition, a number of big concerns, including railways, own their own power-stations. It seems clear that the extremely complicated provisions under which the Central Electricity Board, instead of operating its own generating stations, has to buy current from Power Companies and from municipal and private stations and then re-sell it, often to the very concerns from which it has been bought, is uneconomic and foolish, and that it would be very much better for the Central Electricity Board to take over the whole business of generation, except perhaps where a private station exists solely for supplying the big industrial enterprise which owns it. Given this unification, it would be possible for the ‘Grid’ to institute a national system of charges throughout Great Britain; and the task of electrifying the countryside and the remoter areas generally would be immensely simplified. I do not suggest that the Central Electricity Board should take over the job of the retail distribution of current, which would probably be best organised on a regional basis, under public ownership by some sort of Joint Board or ad hoc authority for each region, subject to a general system of national co-ordinating control. What is clear is that there is no room in this industry for the continuance of private profit-making. The case is one for complete unification of the basic supplies, and for regional public control of the end nearest the consumers.

Gas

Gas supply, again, is already under municipal public ownership in a considerable number of areas. But there are both very big private concerns, such as the Gas Light and Coke Company, and many smaller private concerns, often controlled by the larger companies or holding companies which have bought out the original owners. There is, I think, no clear case for a national unification of the gas supply service, which is destined to remain mainly local. Only in a few areas is long-distance transmission of producer-gas from industry likely to be practicable. Indeed, it becomes less practicable as industries achieve greater efficiency in using up gases that formerly ran to waste. Nor is there any necessary economy in increasing the size of gas undertakings beyond a certain point, which is fairly soon reached. The economy that is important is that of unified technical administration and research; and this can probably best be achieved by regional rather than national consideration. The right solution seems to be the amalgamation of gas undertakings on a regional basis, under regionally unified technical direction. And this could best be achieved by regional public ownership, parallel to the ownership of the system of electricity distribution.

From 2011: Private Eye on Criticism of Tory Research Supporting Competition in the NHS

April 13, 2014

This is from Private Eye’s edition for 25th November – 8th December 2011.

NHS Reforms

Broken Heart Study

Malcolm Grant, newly appointed chair of the NHS Commissioning Board, recently described health secretary Andrew Lansley’s proposed health reforms as “completely unintelligible”. Now it seems the same applies to the only bit of research David Cameron could come up with to support the bill.

Back in June The PM said: “Put simply, competition is one way we can make things work better for patients. This isn’t ideological theory. A study published by the London School of Economics found hospitals in areas with more choice had lower death rates.”

Certainly the paper, published in the Economic Journal, was billed as showing that “hospital competition in the NHS saves lives”. It looked at the impact of patient choice and hospital competition in relation to elective surgery and concluded, according to lead author Dr Zack Cooper, that “competition in a market with fixed prices can lead to lower hospital death rates and improve patient outcomes.”

Death rates from heart attacks were apparently reduced by an impressive seven percent. There were, it claimed, 900 fewer deaths from heart attacks during the three-year period after the choice and competition reforms were introduced into NHS.

Er … but not according to 11 experts in public health, health economics, general practice and statistics from eight leading universities led by Allyson Pollock of Queen Mary, University of London. In a paper published in the Lancet last month, they argue that there is “no evidence that patient choice in the NHS saves lives” qand claim that the LSE study is daft, or as they put it “fundamentally flawed”.

Among a long list of criticisms, covering data, study design and methods, as well as the report’s analysis and conclusions, they said the LSE researchers had made three very basic mistakes.

Firstly they did not explain why the availability of choice for elective procedures should have any effect on whether heart attack patients survive. For heart attack victims, hospital choice and competition don’t come into it. As Sir Roger Boyle, the government’s former heart tsar who presided over a long-term decrease in heart attack and stroke deaths, told the Guardian, it’s down to the paramedic and ambulance drivers to get patients to the nearest specialist centre as fast as possible. People in acute pain and distress don’t choose.

Secondly, the LSE team didn’t look at whether the availability of choice had nay effect on where patients go for treatment – recent research indicates that most patients pick their nearest hospital.

Thirdly, LSE researchers ignored the effects of changes in prevention and treatment over which Boyle had presided. Heart attack patients tend to fare better when they’re treated in specialist centres in urban areas.

The authors concluded: “Our examination of this research reveals it to be fundamentally flawed, amounting to the conclusion that the paper simply doesn’t prove either cause or effect between patient choice and death rate from acute myocardial infarction.”

The LSE team is fighting back, accusing its accusers in the Lancet of misrepresenting the LSE research and being “politically motivated”. Not an accusation that could be levelled at Cooper and his pro-competition friends at the LSE surely

Others have also blogged on the criticisms of Cooper’s paper advocating greater competition in the NHS. In fact, Cameron’s NHS reforms are highly ideological. He and the other Tories are deliberately privatising the NHS through gradual, piecemeal measures. Furthermore, such privatisation directly enriches the Tories and Tory Democrats, who own and run companies involved in this privatisation. For further information, see the relevant blog posts over at Another Angry Voice, the Void, Vox Political, amongst many others.

Books on Radical History, the Working Class and British Democracy: Popular Movements c.1830-1850

January 19, 2014

edited by J.T. Ward (Basingstoke: MacMillan 1970)

Popular Movements 19thc

This discusses the major reform movements in the second quarter of the 19th century, which touched on nearly every aspect of British politics and society. There are individual chapters examining

1. The Agitation for Parliamentary Reform, discussing the campaign for the 1833 Great Reform Act, which expanded the franchise, and attempted to remove some of the most notorious rotten and pocked boroughs.

2. The Factory movement, which campaigned for lower working hours and prohibitions on employing children, or limiting their working hours, and improving conditions for factory workers.

3. The Anti-Poor Law legislation, which attacked the Workhouses set up by the Liberals.

4. Trade Unionism.

5. Chartism. This was the great working and lower middle class movement demanding the establishment of democracy. All men over the age of 21 were to be given the vote, there were to be equal electoral districts, annual parliaments, and MPs were to be paid, so that politics was no longer the province a wealthy elite. Much of their campaigning consisted in the presentation of giant petitions to parliament. It finally collapsed after the mid-19th century, when most of the signatures in its ‘monster petition’ were found to be forgeries, like ‘Queen Victoria’ and ‘The Duke of Wellington’. Nevertheless, it was a vital episode in the campaign for the expansion of the franchise.

6. The Agitation against the Corn Laws. These had been imposed at the time of the Napoleonic Civil War to keep the price of corn high and so ensure large profits for the farmers by excluding foreign imports. The Liberal politicians Cobden and Bright formed the Anti-Corn Law League to attack them, as they made bread and corn expensive for the working class, and so led to misery and starvation.

7.The Irish Agitation. Most famously led by John Stuart Parnell, this campaigned for Home Rule in opposition to the poverty and oppression experienced by ordinary Irish people under British government. One of the most notorious issues, bitterly resented by the Irish were the absentee landlords, who demanded extremely high rents from their tenants while enjoying life across the Irish Sea.

8. The Public Health Movement. This was another reaction against the disgusting squalor and foetid conditions in the Victorian slums, which led to horrific epidemics of diseases such a cholera. It led to the establishment of local boards of health, subordinate to a central board of health, which were to provide help and advice to the poor on problems with food, clothing, ventilation, drainage and cleanliness. It also resulted in a series of studies and commissions investigating the problems of disease, sanitation and living conditions in towns across Victorian Britain. Much of this was done or inspired by the Benthamite Radical, Owen Chadwick.

These movements gradually transformed industrial Britain. Instead of the laissez-faire philosophy towards government that officially informed government policies and ideology, state interference in the economy and society was increasingly accepted as a necessary means to improve conditions in the new, industrial society that was then emerging. This marked the beginning of a new, collectivist approach to politics that gradually became stronger and led to increasing legislation granting increasing political freedoms and improving conditions for the working and lower middle classes.