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NHS Babygrows and Using Children in Propaganda*

July 4, 2014

There’s currently an adorable picture doing the rounds on twitter of a baby wearing a ‘Born in the NHS’ babygrow. A friend tweeted it to me and thought that my son would suit one. She also pointed out a reply that criticised using children ‘in this way’, as propaganda for any and all causes.

I thought about this overnight (my son is five months old, so I get a good amount of overnight thinking time!) and the following are a few thoughts that occurred to me. It goes slightly off topic though, so bear with me.

A baby can’t consent to themselves being used as propaganda so I can understand people being wary of this. In fact, I was thinking, maybe we shouldn’t use children for political aims. But then babies can’t consent to anything, so we make decisions for them. Which then got me thinking about all the decisions we make for them and all the things we use babies for.

We decide what they wear, what they eat, where they go and what and who they see. We use them for comfort, for love, to give ourselves purpose, to fit in, to try to ensure company and support in old age. We use children to show off our tastes, often our wealth, and the choices we make for them often reflect our political views and aims.

Which, put like that, sounds quite bad**.

 

But then, I thought, isn’t much of this in some way necessary? It’s impossible not to advertise much of what you think through your children – we mark ourselves out as belonging to our tribes by how we use clothes, what accent we have etc. and these are inevitably shared also through our children (unless you have a permanently naked child who never speaks, which would also definitely show the world something about you…)

We also have to raise them with some views. A child learns much of what they think of the world from their parents, it really can’t be any different. Ideally this should include how to think critically and how to come to their own conclusions about the world but we inevitably pass on something of ours views to our children.

Given the inevitability of showing the world our views through our children, and passing those views on to them too, is using them overtly as propaganda a bad thing? You already indirectly advertise your views through them, is it very different? I would argue that at least propaganda is a deliberate choice that you then may have to defend to them.

So, as we already use children to propagate our views, I think that we should probably focus on the content of those views. Which is a whole different blog post.

 

You could also take a utilitarian approach to this subject. To make a better future for your children, or indeed the world, you need to change peoples minds, or behaviour. This often calls for a bit of propaganda, so you may be able to justify use of a non-consenting baby in order to better the world. I think the difference between a philosopher and politician is that a philosopher wants to find the correct, or at least a good, argument, whereas a politician wants to also make sure he wins the argument! Which is where the children come in. Most people feel warmly towards babies (evolution for the win!) so juxtaposing them with your cause can make people feel warmly towards your message.

Which brings us back round to the ‘Born in the NHS’ babygrow. The NHS is a Good Thing. It saves and improves lives based on need, not means. It is one of the most important and beneficial institutions we have. If you have any doubt on this, please read my post from last year Why the NHS is ruddy marvellous (and why we need to protect it).

Associating the NHS with babies reminds us of all the good it does and gives us a warm feeling about it. It reminds people like me of the important role the NHS had in one of the most significant events of our lives. Which contrasts with all the negative press the NHS has been getting recently. The NHS needs some propaganda right now. And remember, just because it’s propaganda doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Oh, and my son is called Nye. As in Bevan, the founder of the NHS.

How’s that for propaganda eh?

 

*I use propaganda in the older sense of presenting information to further a cause. The word now seems to come with the idea that propaganda is always untrue.

**Even before all that kicks in though, having a child is already a pretty selfish act. There are benefits to the world of having children, but as we already have huge overpopulation that (assuming you want everyone to have enough natural resources) these are few. When we bring a baby into the world we can’t know how their life will go. And I really don’t think that causing someone to exist can be doing them a favour – if they hadn’t have existed, they wouldn’t have minded!

Why the NHS is ruddy marvellous (and why we need to protect it)

August 14, 2013

Apologies for the title, I think I’ve been a bit affected by all the Alan Partridge mania of the last few weeks.

Why the NHS is ruddy marvellous

Over the last few months my husband and I have had occasion to use the NHS quite a lot more than we would have liked. We’ve been using primary care a fair bit, as I am 16 weeks pregnant, and unfortunately have had to use acute services three times in as many months.

To start on the primary care side, I have had two midwife appointments, with a further one tomorrow, and a 12 week scan. These appointments have allowed me to have a healthy pregnancy, both through the opportunity to screen for serious conditions and also the information given to me. As I have previously had mental health problems, the way this is asked about as standard is a great comfort to me. I feel that I can share any negative feelings I have and that I will be monitored for signs of pre-and post-natal depression. 

I am happily free of many of the other problems that the midwives talk to me about, but can see what a lifeline they must be to women living with domestic abuse and violence, or with drug and alcohol problems.

On the acute side, my husband and I have recently had 2 visits to A&E and an admission for surgery.

The first A&E visit came when I was 8 weeks pregnant and was having symptoms that could indicate a miscarriage. It was a Saturday night, so after speaking to a midwife I went to A&E. I had to wait to check in behind two idiots who apparently didn’t know what A&E stands for (one wanting to see doc there instead of his GP, and one who wanted to be seen there rather than make a fracture clinic appointment as advised by another hospital). They were, politely, given pretty short shrift by the receptionist. Apart from that, I was triaged pretty quickly and seen by a doctor after not too long a wait. He was able to reassure me that I probably wasn’t losing the pregnancy and arranged for me to have an ultrasound scan a couple of days later. I was given pretty much the first appointment available, and it turned out all was well.

The second A&E visit came two and a half weeks ago, after my husband was knocked off his bike by a careless driver. You can read his account here http://pixie359.wordpress.com/ (warning, very strong language!). The short version is that a driver cut across his right of way and he went into the side of the car. The driver then drove off, leaving him in a bloody heap in the middle of a junction. So an ambulance and the police were called by some good samaritans and he went to A&E, shortly followed by me. There he was seen by a doctor, nurses, and radiologists, his broken elbow and various cuts and bruises were patched up, and he was given an appointment for the Sunday morning fracture clinic (the existence of which tells you a lot about A&E on a Saturday night…) The time between the accident and getting home was only four hours. He was treated kindly at all times (even by the stern nurse, who I think they have in on a weekend specifically to deal with all the drunks).

As if husband wasn’t in enough pain, on Saturday night he began to experience some pretty unpleasant abdominal symptoms and spent the next 36 hours in bed. Yesterday he made an appointment with his GP, who promptly referred him to the surgical admissions unit of our local hospital with suspected appendicitis. After a bit of a slow start (he apparently looked a bit too well when he arrived, so wasn’t prioritised!) his condition got worse. I asked if someone could see him and the nurses got him some pain relief and were monitoring him whilst he waited to see the registrar. It was quite a long afternoon, and he had to wait in a side room as there were no beds, but as the amount of beds funded is hardly in the control of the ward staff, we didn’t complain. The staff have also noted this on his record and this will be passed on as they didn’t think it was acceptable. The staff were very busy but I think they gave him the attention needed, though I’m glad I was there to keep him company and to make sure he didn’t get worse between nursing visits. He got to see the consultant surgeon in the evening and was operated on in the middle of the night. The consultant surgeon gave us a clear idea of the risks and recovery time. He came round from the op safely.

I think anyone with an ounce of sense can see that all of the above, free at the point of use, is pretty ruddy marvellous.

[Since writing this he has returned home, it wasn’t fun but everything was fine, apart from the horrifically bad food]

Why we need to protect the NHS

All of the above was possible because we have a taxpayer funded, free at the point of use health service.

The first good reason to protect the NHS is what it provides to the people of this country, compared to the alternatives. In many other countries our options in each of the above situations would have been

  • Pay for treatment at point of use, i.e. paid up front for each treatment and investigation, or become indebted to the hospital and have to pay the bills
  • Claim for treatments on health insurance
  • Go without treatment

To start with the first option, who the heck has enough money swilling around to pay for expensive medical treatment up front? Not me. So, as often happens in the USA, we could have been bankrupted by the bills (or denied treatment). Out of 313 million US citizens, households containing 1.7 million people will be bankrupted by health care bills in 2013 (http://www.cnbc.com/id/100840148) and about 56 million adults, which is more than 20 percent of the population between the ages of 19 and 64, will have trouble paying their health bills (as above).

The second option is the way insurance based systems are presented to us. ‘It’s easy’ they say ‘you just pay your insurance premiums like you pay tax, and then claim against it when needed’. There’s so many problems with this premise, I don’t know where to begin! Perhaps with a story. A family member lives in Australia. He has a decently paid job and ‘good’ health insurance. Earlier this year he came off his mountain bike and broke his pelvis. His treatment has mainly been paid for by his ‘comprehensive’ health insurance. Oh yes, apart form the A$1000 (£590) for the ambulance which the insurers claim they don’t have to pay for, as his injuries weren’t ‘life threatening’. He is currently locked in a battle to try and get this cost reimbursed.

I myself have lived in a country with an insurance based system. Luckily I didn’t need acute treatment, but I did need to see a GP on more than one occasion. This cost the equivalent of 5 hours’ wages, plus the cost of any prescription medicines, and was not covered by insurance. I struggled with the cost and I knew plenty of people who didn’t go to the GP until they got desperate. 

I am now in the happy position of being relatively well off (well educated, job, good work history, two income household, smallish mortgage) and so I would be one of the people potentially least affected by losing the NHS (as long as I didn’t develop a serious long-term condition). However, unlike most of the people making decisions about the NHS, I have been poor and I have been unemployed, without many qualifications. I have struggled to pay bills and I can see where I would have been in an insurance based system. And anyway, the idea of ‘I’m alright Jack’ is a pretty poor way of forming your political views.

Another problem with the insurance based system is that, unlike income tax, it is not based on how much you can afford to pay. In fact, as we know from other sectors such as energy and banking, the poorer you are, generally the more you pay. And there are periods in most people’s lives when they simply do not have the money to pay for anything other than rent and food (if that). And if you don’t pay your premiums, you aren’t covered. Simples. 

The last option is to go without treatment. Do I need to spell out the implications of not being treated for appendicitis, or a broken arm, or having medical attention during pregnancy/childbirth? I think you can fill in this blank.

A second good reason to protect the NHS is that it is actually really good value for money. In 2011, the Commonwealth Fund found that the NHS was exceptionally good value for money compared to other developed countries, who mostly have insurance based systems (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8877412/NHS-among-best-health-care-systems-in-the-world.html). 

Another example of the value for money of the NHS is this: the average cost to the NHS of caring for a woman through pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care is £2800 (http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/comm-maternity-services.pdf). The average cost of pregnancy care in the US being about $30,000 (£19,300) for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 (£32,200) for a caesarian section, with insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/07/23/the-royal-birth-cost-15000-the-average-american-birth-is-billed-at-30000/). And the death-in-childbirth rate of the USA is worse than nearly every other industrialised country, which shows that a lot of women are not accessing good healthcare during childbirth (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/12/amnesty-us-maternal-mortality-rates).

It’s a basic idea, and generally accepted, that economy of scale works. This is why beer in a Wetherspoons is cheaper than in your local independent pub. And this is why a national, tax-payer funded, system can deliver such good value for money. And yes, there are problems with large bureaucracies and vast organisations, but these are essentially an issue of how you arrange and manage an organisation. They are solvable problems.

I really don’t trust this government to do it’s best to maintain the NHS but a change of government wouldn’t necessarily signal that the service is safe. Constant rearrangement of how the NHS works is a danger in itself. The OECD (not exactly full of raving commies) wrote a report showing that the reform that seems to be the passion of every new government costs years in improvements in quality (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/nov/23/health-bill-nhs-oecd-report). This isn’t to say that nothing should ever change, just that huge systemic changes aren’t necessarily going to improve anything and the impact of the fact of changing itself needs to be considered.

All of my arguments around the NHS of course assume that your end point is to make sure everyone has access to decent healthcare. I sometimes doubt that our current government really have that aim in mind. I could spend time arguing about why everyone should have access to good healthcare, but I’m assuming a basic level of decency from the reader.

I’m really worried about the future of the NHS. I see the next ten years being where the easy stuff is done by private providers for profit and the hard stuff, the stuff that’s complicated and unpredictable, and therefore unprofitable, being done by an increasingly underfunded NHS. I rather suspect that the long term idea is to starve the NHS of money and political support in order to make it so bad that the public will accept the insurance model, without actually knowing any of the pitfalls. The generation who remember life before the NHS is dying out, and with it their human stories of suffering which, for all the statistics I can throw out, is essentially what this is all about. Looking after our fellow human beings and stopping their suffering. Which is why we need an NHS.

Social Mobility My Arse!

May 28, 2012

The Job Centre Beckons

One of the things I promised myself I would do when I finished my exams was write some blog posts. Well, a visit to the job centre has given me some ripe material.

Firstly, a bit of background. I have just finished my degree in Spanish and Politics at a northern university, which I did as a mature student. I’m a few weeks off learning my final results but the results so far have been first class. Before that I worked consistently, was a tax payer for 10 years, and I’m an ardent supporter of the welfare state, defending it against any attack.

So today I went to the job centre to sign on. Having spent an age filling in the on-line form I went to the job centre for an appointment with their advisers. Firstly, they asked for documents that, apart from ID, they hadn’t asked for. I would have brought them had I known. After going through even more paperwork they informed me that I probably wouldn’t be eligible for contributions based JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) as I hadn’t paid any NI (National Insurance) in the last 2 tax years. It’s true, I haven’t been paying NI…

…BECAUSE I WAS A FULL TIME STUDENT!

They told me it worked like car insurance, if I hadn’t kept up my premiums then I couldn’t make a claim. Which isn’t exactly what it was set up for… do I now get to go to an opera singing DWP official to get a better deal? To top it all off, they will not tell me if my claim has been successful until I post them the documents that they hadn’t asked for in advance (documents which shouldn’t affect it if contributions in the past two years are a deciding factor).

In the meantime, even though I have no idea if I will get any JSA, I have to engage in job hunting (which I was going to anyway btw!) for 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. I have to visit the jobseekers.direct.gov.uk website, and other job sites, daily, even on weekends. Each week I have to write to at least 5 employers and phone 5 too. I have to document this in a little book they gave me.

Let me be clear, I am actively looking for work anyway. I am not looking to sit on my arse for £70 a week. I already have a part time job, but that is only 4 hours a week. It just rankles that I have to do this to such a bureaucratic degree just to access money which I happily paid into the system, safe in the knowledge that in Britain we look after each other when we fall on hard times.

There is another type of JSA which is income based, however as my partner works for more than 24 hours a week I would not be eligible for that either.

So, firstly I may not be entitled to any ‘contributions based’ JSA, despite the fact that I contributed to the pot for many years and secondly I still have to do all this bureaucratic stuff, even though I haven’t yet been accepted as a ‘legitimate claimant’.

The next piece of madness was that, as I am going on my honeymoon for two weeks in August (kindly paid for by family) if I am accepted and if I don’t have work by then, I will have to sign off and then go through the whole process to sign on again! They said this is because 1) this means ‘I’m not resident in the UK’ for those 2 weeks, which I won’t even dignify with an answer as to how bloody stupid and factually inaccurate that is, and 2) I need to be available to start work straight away. However, as I pointed out, my current employer could ask for at least 2 weeks notice, so a 2 week honeymoon shouldn’t be any different. I smell a plot to keep the jobless figures down….
Just as a note, I didn’t lose my temper with or be rude to the person at the jobcentre. They are not the ones making policy.

Social Mobility My Arse

This whole thing is even more annoying because, despite not being a government supporter, according to them I did everything right. I worked and paid my taxes. I then went to uni, despite my fear of accruing debts, in order to better my chances. I used my last student loan payment to pay off my overdraft and then rolled back my already pretty pitiful spending to stay out of the red. I should be a poster girl for the social mobility that this government says it supports, and indeed promotes as a panacea.

There are many problems with the idea of social mobility as a cure-all, too many to list here, perhaps I’ll do another post on them (when I’ve calmed down). But even if you accept that social mobility is the answer, then why is the system apparently punishing me for trying to better myself? I have been the model citizen, but it seems that it would have been better for me in the medium term to remain in my previous working class, supposedly unskilled, job.

My partner has supported me financially during my studies, which as a woman used to being independent I found hard, but that at least was in the form of paying bills etc, so was mostly hidden. Now I am near the point of having to ask my partner for money just for day to day things. This is humiliating. I feel like a 1950s housewife asking for housekeeping money on pay day.
I always paid my taxes happily, secure in the knowledge that I could call on the system to temporarily support me when I was in need but now this is denied to me. The government has broken its contract and I feel miserable about the failure of all of us to hold it to account.

I have written to my (Conservative) MP, asking for an appointment at his next constituency surgery, but despair of this changing anything. I feel betrayed and angry. Things like this are what create political disengagement and apathy.

That this is happening is wrong on principle but the main point I want to make is that I remain one of the most priviledged people on our planet. As my partner pointed out, we have the luxury of merely being outraged by the unfairness of it all but in reality I remain with a secure roof over my head, clothes on my back and food on the table. Why? Because my partner inherited enough money to put a large deposit down on a house and earns enough to cover all our expenses. I am essentially marrying into social mobility. But these facts are not what has accounted for me, in all likelihood, not receiving financial aid. Or as I like to call it, at least for today, getting my own bloody money back. Most people refused JSA do not have the luxury of the security that I enjoy, nor the resources to deal with government bureaucracies.

The British government supports social mobility? My arse.

Hello world!

November 3, 2011

As it says above, hello world! Or maybe not, I’ve not decided to make this public yet…..

I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the internet age. Despite being able to see the benefits & potential of the web I still have my reservations about our new age, the living of a life online, hence the anonymity of my posts.

I suppose I’ve started a blog because I have some things I want to think about and some things I want to say. I have no pretensions that these will be interesting to anyone other than myself and make no claim to any sort of expertise. I don’t claim to be in a special position to comment on anything. Please bear this in mind if this is published openly and you decide to comment on anything. Critical assessment & reasoned points of view welcome, trolling or gratuitous insults not. Trolling is seriously a point of the internet I hate. I choose not to associate with rude nasty people in the real world but it’s quite hard to avoid online. Maybe a later post will explain more fully why this has been a major block to me having a serious online life before, or maybe not……

I have also struggled with the online world as I actually find writing, and dealing with everything in written form, quite difficult. The fast moving debates you see on threads or Twitter genuinely just make my head hurt and any attempts to join in on my part have been, well, pretty rubbish. So maybe the slower pace of a blog will suit me better.

So, anyhoo, that’s the first post. I could sit here writing all afternoon but the world calls.

Eskepchica