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Proletarian issue 70 (February 2016)
Health warning: capitalism kills
Latest assaults on society’s most helpless.
The prolonged assault of the bourgeois parties on the working class continues as austerity bites Britain. The collective punishment of the working class for bourgeois crimes is proving to be unrelenting.

Certain sections of the class are being attacked with particular vigour. The crisis of capitalist overproduction has resulted in a series of mini-crises, such as those in the areas of social care and energy, which are disproportionately hurting the elderly and disabled.

For example, a report by Age UK and the Royal National Institute for the Blind recently revealed that the government has scrapped social-care funding for 12,415 blind or partially-sighted pensioners, despite the fact that they rely on that care provision for essential help with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, cooking, cleaning, washing, dressing and even eating.

Compared with the general older population, those with sight loss are more likely to have multiple health conditions, to live on a low income and to live in poor-quality housing, making them disproportionally hit by the government’s attack on the poor to safeguard the maximum profits of the richest in this society.

Care and support services have been slashed for all adults with a physical disability in recent years, and this in itself is disgusting in a very wealthy country, but Age UK and the RNIB argue that those aged over 65 who also suffer from sight loss have been especially badly affected. (See Almost 12,500 blind and partially sighted older people become casualties of the social care crisis, Age UK, 21 January 2016)

The warning is clear: these vicious cuts are having very serious consequences on the independence, health and well-being of older blind and partially-sighted people, and this will only get worse as many of those affected (along with the many in other disabled and poverty-stricken categories) find that their increasingly miserable lives are shortened considerably and end in very miserable deaths.

Poor people freeze while energy profits soar

Moreover, this winter, faced with the decision to heat or eat, warmth has become a luxury item for millions. This is particularly true of the elderly. A study by Comparethemarket found that 40 percent of pensioners pay for heating by cutting other costs such as food. A further 20 percent rely on savings or credit to get them through.

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK commented: “The UK has an appalling record on cold-related deaths, with one older person dying every seven minutes from the winter cold. Even ‘normal cold’ temperatures of around 6 degrees significantly raise the risk of life-changing health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.”

Despite government pledges, the situation has not improved this winter. In May 2015, the energy secretary Amber Rudd, wrote to the companies that make up the Big Six cartel of Britain’s energy suppliers. In her letter she asked the companies to lower prices to reflect plummeting wholesale costs, brought on by falling oil prices. They have so far politely ignored her request.

Jean-Louis de Lolme, the 18/19th-century political theorist, once decried the excessive power of the British parliament in the following terms: “Parliament can do everything but make a woman a man and a man a woman.” The intervening more than two centuries of capitalist development has transferred any semblance of power so far outside of our talking-shop of a parliament that a minister of the crown today writes begging letters to energy companies rather than legislating against them.

Of course, to accuse the government of begging suggests some intent on the part of its ministers, which is likely to give them far more credit than they deserve. In effect, the letters are really no more than publicity stunts.

Since Rudd’s letter was sent, wholesale prices have fallen by a further fifth. However, the supposedly almighty ‘invisible hand’ of the market has not reduced consumer prices. Instead, the energy cartel has maintained prices at existing exorbitant levels. Only one solitary adjustment has occurred, with British Gas lowering gas prices only, by 5 percent. To put this in context, wholesale prices have fallen by 50 percent in the past two years.

Previously, collusive price-fixing had seen the average yearly dual-fuel (electricity and gas) bill rise by 45 percent, from £841 in 2007 to £1,217 in 2013. (Big Six energy companies bump up their profits from British households by 1000 percent in just five years by Rachel Rickard Straus, This is Money, 17 March 2015)

The figure is now over £1,300 Between 2007 and 2013, profits per customer rose by a jaw-dropping 3,555 percent. The plummeting price of oil has only seen these profits grow larger. (Pensioners left to freeze as energy firms chase profits by Andrew Ellson, The Times, 13 January 2016)

All main parties collude in attacking the poorest

A freedom of information request has revealed that, in Scotland alone, 276 people died last year while awaiting social care. As if that figure were not shocking enough, 95 of those who died came under the jurisdiction of a single council – the Labour/SNP coalition that runs Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, 65 deaths occurred in Labour-controlled Fife, 39 died in the SNP-controlled North Ayrshire, and 28 people died awaiting care from the Labour/Tory coalition in Stirling. This is the level of collusion involved in the politics of austerity: all the main parties are involved in implementing the cuts and are culpable for the mounting casualties that austerity is inflicting on the working class.

The basket case that is Edinburgh council provides a vivid illustration of the shambles prevailing in social care nationwide as services are cut back and outsourced to the point that no central body is able any longer to keep track of what’s going on. In one week in November alone, 3,983 hours of social care in the city went unmet. One person had to wait 641 days (ie, nearly two years) for care to begin. (276 deaths amid ‘cruel crisis in social care’ by Mike Wade, The Times, 13 January 2016)

The Conservative government at Westminster may be in the vanguard of the cuts, but it is ably supported by the SNP at Holyrood, which has refused to use its discretionary tax-raising powers and which has implemented a council tax freeze since 2007, leading to chronically-underfunded councils. The trinity of colluding bourgeois administrations is completed by Labour, whose councils have all refused to set ‘illegal’ budgets (ie, ones where essential services are preserved).

The complete bankruptcy of the ‘party of the working class’ is underlined by the announcement that Tory-held Moray plans to raise council tax in order to plug the funding gap! Thus we see that Labour councils are even less willing than some Conservatives to push back against austerity. Clearly, all three parties are representing the same class interests.

Our task is the almighty one of linking these everyday crises to the struggle for socialism – real socialism. Only by finally casting aside all the bourgeois parties can our class begin to rise to its rightful place in history.
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