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Making sense of the cuts and the move towards the private sector in health, education and care

Those engaged in one of the ‘caring’ professions cannot help but be feeling the pinch in terms of the cuts that have followed the credit crunch and the economic downturn. The Government’s ‘Plan A’ is for a rapid reduction in debt, front-loaded so that the effects are being felt acutely and very early in the electoral cycle.

Before Christmas there was the news of the first privatisation of a NHS hospital (Hinchingbroke) and plans to privatise 5 prisons including Doncaster. There were planned strikes at Prince Henry School in Otley whose staff were protesting about the shift to Academy status removing the school from Local Authority control.

Observers could be excused for thinking that these moves are simply the Government recognising that cuts have to be made and that bringing in the private sector can bring about savings. However, what lies behind this and Cameron’s related policy of The Big Society is a far bigger global agenda which goes by the name of neo-liberalism. Some readers will be well acquainted with the term through their reading but the term is not that common in daily parlance. What we are witnessing is an ideological shift that started with Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s and has been gathering momentum over the last 30 years.

For the uninitiated then, what is neo-liberalism? Neo-liberalism describes a set of principles which are anti-socialist and anti-welfare and embrace the following: a shift of responsibility from the centre to the community (localism); the primacy of the individual with a responsibility for maximising their potential; the state being small on ’bureaucracy’ and big on ’control’; the primacy of the market and competition to bring about choice, economic efficiency and prosperity. The neo-liberal tenet of ’more market’ means deregulation and privatisation in the move to restructure the welfare state.

Essentially this means that the Government believes in a strong controlling state that devolves responsibility and creates market-like conditions in the belief that this will produce greater efficiencies and effectiveness, higher standards and reduce the burden on the state. Inspection regimes ensure compliance and the Local Authorities are bypassed as, in theory at least, the ’voice’ of the consumer is heard. The individual in this new world has to take responsibility for him or herself with a rapidly shrinking welfare state. Privatising parts of the national health, education and the care services represents a logical step up from privatising the utilities and public transport that took place in the 1980s.

No matter what role you have in terms of caring for others, either as a teacher, health worker or carer, you will recognise the dangers of letting the market decide. Decisions are made on the basis of data and savings and the discourse is of productivity, streamlining, consumer satisfaction and, sadly, downsizing in many cases.

It is worth reflecting on the cuts and how they are affecting your organisation and then looking at the way in which they are presented in such a way as to suggest improvement and a changing philosophy. Only time will tell what the consequences of this ideological shift will be.

Dr Mike Calvert
July 2012

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