A £12bn cut in welfare will put huge pressure on the NHS
I have worked enough hours on the front line of the NHS to see where the next crisis will come from. The people who suffer stoically through humiliating cuts to their disability allowance. The pensioners subsisting and malnourished due to the higher cost of basic utilities. The most vulnerable have been pushed into poverty by austerity - and it is crippling the National Health Service.
This week, the Chancellor announced his emergency budget. £12 billion is set to be slashed from welfare. The Tories’ rosy pre-election promises are being rewritten.
George Osborne has pledged to “protect the NHS and give it more funding each and every year,” but he has failed to join the dots. The intimate link between poverty and poor health could place overwhelming demand on the NHS in the coming years, regardless of healthcare spending.
Osbourne’s summer budget heralds a return to the 1930s, a time when there was no safety net for those in need. This unforgiving reality will affect far more than a few scapegoated skivers.
Over 600,000 disabled people will lose their benefits by 2018 thanks to David Cameron’s government, but they will not lose their disability. The last round of cuts was followed by a food aid crisis: more than 900,000 people required emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks in 2013/14, compared to less than 41,000 in 2009/10.
This means some working families now cannot afford to feed their children. Over 850,000 extra people are turning to charities to stop them from starving.
Even the most pragmatic neoliberal cannot ignore these consequences for the 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, and the healthcare system they rely upon.
The Due North report commissioned by Public Health England makes clear that poor health worsens with increasing socio-economic disadvantage. Northern Britain in particular has suffered disproportionately from the last five years of austerity.
The King’s Fund goes further, establishing an inexcusable duty of the NHS to tackle poverty due to its strong link to catastrophic illness. Poverty means you cannot afford to eat properly, live in a safe or sanitary home, or travel to get medical help. It is associated with isolation, and often leads to a vicious cycle of deprivation and vulnerability to disease.
The NHS has been forced to act as a sanctuary for the desperate, but the respite it can offer remains temporary until lawmakers recognise that punishing poverty only makes things worse.
There is modest progress. There is now a recognised mismatch between universal health care and patchy social care, and we have a timetable for their integration. Patients are currently left in hospital beds because carers are not available to look after them at home. This is an inexcusable waste of money and a personal indignity. Creating high quality universal social care will stop some of the worst immoralities of our current arrangement, which may care for you in hospital then abandon you at home.
But without addressing a government agenda that triumphs in its attack on the poor, even this improved system will grind to a bankrupt halt.
An increasingly myopic government has championed the NHS whilst missing the damage dealt to people's health by its policies. The Tory ideology needs a reality check when their economic argument is failing, when it costs more to treat the ill health caused by welfare cuts than is saved in squeezing budgets. There is a madness in promising someone good health then condemning them to the pain of poverty, and a stupidity in doing so when it makes little financial sense.