Funding for War or the NHS?

British Government Cannot Reconcile Its Anti-Social and Pro-War Direction with the Needs of the People

This week saw another chain of events that show how Theresa May’s government cannot reconcile its anti-social and pro-war direction with the well-being and needs of the people. On June 17, Theresa May announced that the National Health Service (NHS) in England is to get an extra £20 billion a year by 2023 as a “70th birthday present.” By June 19, after criticism from her military chiefs, she was boasting to visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “we are the biggest defence budget in Europe,” and “we will continue to contribute in a whole variety of ways across conventional, cyber and nuclear capabilities.”

This statement on June 15, by the Prime Minister on the NHS had no further detail and came at a time that the government said it would launch a Green Paper detailing future spending on health and social care. Of course, there was no mention of the further investment desperately needed in the NHS in Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland for which the Westminster government has overall funding responsibility. Neither was there any recognition of the depth of the crisis in the NHS caused by the neo-liberal direction driven by the big health corporations and state institutions under their control, or the 3 per cent “efficiency savings” — cuts that are imposed on all NHS Trusts every year. Commenting on the interview, the BBC report said that the £114 billion NHS budget in England “will rise by an average of 3.4 per cent annually — but that is still less than the 3.7 per cent average rise the NHS has had since 1948. The prime minister said in the interview that this would be funded partly by a ‘Brexit dividend,’ but also hinted at tax rises.” This brought comments in Parliament on June 18, especially from Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn, who at PMQs [Prime Minister’s Questions] questioned the “Brexit dividend” and asked, “Which taxes are going up and for whom?”

It also was reported in the Financial Times and other papers that Theresa May had told “stunned military chiefs” and defence secretary Gavin Williamson that “the MoD [Ministry of Defence] would need to make cuts and end having a full spectrum of military capabilities.” The reports said this sent “shockwaves through the Ministry of Defence” that the Treasury will not find any extra money for the armed forces when a review of British capabilities concludes in the autumn.

Then on June 17, Jens Stoltenberg, who was visiting Britain ahead of next month’s NATO summit in Brussels with government leaders, called on Britain to maintain its role as one of the world’s biggest military spenders. He also met with Theresa May and held a joint press conference with her where May said that “the reports that you have read are not correct.” She said that Britain will continue to be that leading contributor to the alliance but also a leading “defence nation” and will continue to spend 2 per cent of GDP on the military.

The NHS is a vital part of the well-being to the people in a socialised economy. This fact has to be recognised and not diminished to one of being a “cost” to the economy to be played off against the ambitions of the ruling elite to interfere in other countries and go to war. Health workers create value in the socialised economy. The huge value they produce needs to be claimed by the government in large part from the monopolies and oligopolies that consume and profit from this value in having a healthy workforce. The crisis of NHS funding shows that the NHS cannot be reconciled with such an archaic tax system that does not claim this value. It also cannot be reconciled with the pro-war ambitions of the imperialist ruling elite, and their striving to retain British military interference and carry out wars of aggression with the empire-building aim of making Britain a “leading power” in the world to serve their interests and the interests of the imperialist system of states.

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