Maeve Sherlock on the need for a government that will deliver function public services
Yesterday saw the disturbing sight of Conservative MPs cheering the defeat of a Labour motion in the House of Commons which would have led to a pay-rise for teachers, doctors, police officers and other public servants who have had their pay awards capped at 1% a year since 2010.
The cap on public sector pay and the lack of investment in front line services will doubtless be at the heart of today’s House of Lords debate on the Health, Education, Social Security and Culture dimensions of the Queen’s Speech. Goodness knows they need to.
The NHS is facing the worst crisis since its foundation by the 1945 Labour government. Waiting lists are back and rising, A&E is under pressure, and hospital finances are perilous. Social care funding is also in crisis and over a million older people can’t get the help they need with essential daily tasks like washing, dressing and eating.
Class sizes are rising and school budgets are facing their first cut in real terms for twenty years. Added to that, Ministers have no strategy for dealing with widespread problems with teacher recruitment and retention.
Meanwhile, as wages stagnate, the reforms and cuts to in-work benefits deliver a double blow to low income working families. And the savage cuts to disability and children’s benefits has repeatedly hit the most vulnerable in our society.
These crucial public services and the safety net that our social security system provides are fundamental to the health and wellbeing of so many of our fellow citizens. But they are also much more than that: they are a key element of what binds us together as a society. Our willingness to pool risk, to invest in each other, to build a society where the thriving of each depends on the thriving of all is surely a fundamental goal of progressive politics. Indeed it is - or should be - a mark of civilisation.
So when the Labour manifesto pledged to increase spending on health and education, to tackle low pay and the failures of the social security system, it was because we care about every member of our society. But it was also because we have a vision: of an economy with skilled jobs where work always pays and there is help for those who need it.
Underpinning all of this however, we need functioning public services. We need to protect our hard-won welfare state; to integrate health and social care, and restore the fortunes of our much-loved NHS; and to complete the picture by creating a National Education Service so that every individual and community in our country can thrive to the benefit of us all. Now that is a vision we can all get behind.
Baroness Maeve Sherlock is Shadow DWP Minister in House of Lords
Published 29th June 2017