Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Health stories to make you want to give up: pt1

The patio at Voluptuous Villas, last week
Last week was a joyous one for the sort of health news that makes you want to throw your hands up in the air, roll your eyes, shout ‘Arghhhhhhh!!!!!’ and just give up the ghost.

After all, what can we do about the pollution?

African sand, coming over here, clogging up our lungs …

And yes, there was indeed sand visible on the patio in humble Hackney.

Of course, the real story shouldn’t be about Saharan sand taking a vacation in northern Europe – it’s not a unique occurrence – but about the fact that it adds to a home-grown pollution problem that is rarely talked about in the mainstream media.

And if there’s an underlying pollution issue, one wonders what on earth our politicians have been doing about it. Well, the answer is next to sod all, since none of them seem to want to deal with traffic fumes – a major culprit – or have any idea how to actually reduce the amount of traffic on our roads.

The EU is taking action against the UK (and more than a dozen more) over its failure to tackle the issue of pollution – a problem that has been exacerbated by the increasing switch to diesel, which produces a lot of nitrogen dioxide.

This is anecdotal, but when I get off the bus in the morning, on Euston Road, the stink from the fumes can be deeply unpleasant – and it would be difficult not to conclude that it cannot be healthy.

The general layer of perpetual grime that exists in the capital – and elsewhere to a lesser extent – doesn’t detract from that impression either.

It’s a situation that will improve as more low-emissions vehicles take their place, but it’s not going to happen overnight, and most experts think that a range of measures are required, including improving public transport.

It raises that old philosophical question of freedoms: there’s plenty of sentiment in the UK for the ‘right’ to drive a car, but one wonders whether the same people would really conclude, were the question put to them, whether their freedom to drive a car trumped the freedom to breathe safely and easily of the population as a whole?

Obviously, serious political will would be necessary – as in many other areas of life, including tackling emission from poorly-built or insulated housing – and it’s difficult to see where that would come from in terms of the mainstream political parties in the UK, whether they are ideologically supportive of the supra-national corporatocracy, too scared to take it on or devoid of any idea about how to do that.

Anyone imagine this is healthy?
Of the smaller parties, UKIP wants to strip away employment rights and regulation on the grounds that they’re ‘red tape’ and damage businesses, so you cannot really see them being prepared to take or support decisive action on pollution, which would almost certainly require taking on big business interests as well as potentially limiting the ‘freedom’ for everyone to drive a car.

Which leaves the Greens, who have ceased to be a single-issue party and seem to be coming up with policy ideas that actually dare to step away from the obsession with failed neo-liberalism.

The reality with the supra-national corporatocracy, though, means that it’s going to pretty much need the continent to come together as one and say: ‘enough is enough: the world isn’t run primarily for your profits’.

On the UK front, perhaps we will learn more come election – and manifesto – time.

In the meantime, while you’re mulling the health implications of pollution, you might want to remember the call, also last week, from Lord Warner, who advised Tony Blair’s government on health ‘reform’, for people to pay a £10 a month ‘membership’ fee for using the NHS.

This is a little bit of a reminder that we haven’t reached the current situation of the blatant privatisation of the NHS from a standing start: Blair’s government continued with and expanded policies in that direction.

It was and remains an ideology of privatisation. There was no business case for the sell-off of NHS Logistics under Blair, just as there is no business case for the present governments plan to re-privatise East Coast Trains after two failed private contracts and a successful – in terms of finances and customer satisfaction – re-nationalisation of the service.

A certain sour taste was triggered by seeing some of the same media outlets that have been quiet about privatisation now up in arms over the NHS ‘membership’ fee idea.

But one doesn’t have to be a hardened cynic to see that this was floating an idea that may well re-occur in a slightly different way. A fiver a month, anyone? Expect it to crop up sometime.

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