Friday, 10 April 2015

It's not even cost-effective prejudice

Republished with permission by Common Space. Original article here

At the seven-way Party Leaders’ clash last night, UKIP leader Nigel Farage again courted controversy with the suggestion that migrants with the HIV virus should be barred from entering the country. He defended his remarks, as he did the last time, on the basis of the costs of so-called “health tourism”.

The first time Farage caused a furore over this issue, you may remember, was in October last year, when he said to Newsweek Europe that barring migrants with HIV from entering the UK would be “a good start” towards sorting out the UK’s immigration system.

Later he justified his point during an LBC radio phone-in as follows:

If we turn the NHS – and the clue is in the name – into a global health service, we have a severe problem with resources.

At the time, I made a few Freedom of Information requests into this issue, to satisfy my own curiosity that not only was Mr Farage a nasty man deliberately pandering to Daily Mail-reading pond-life, but also that his points had no economic merit.

Even I was surprised at just how lacking in cost-efficiency Farage’s offensive wee plan was.

One FOI request to the Office of National Statistics revealed that, as I thought, there are currently no health-related questions given to migrants upon entering the country. In fact the UK, in contrast to most other countries, has never screened migrants coming in for the HIV virus. What Mr Farage is suggesting would necessitate a fundamental change, in both policy and moral terms: one from a long and proud history of tolerance for people unfortunate enough to be stricken down with a terrible disease, to intolerance.

Do the costs of healthcare tourism justify it?

Another FOI request pointed me to a series of government reports offering detailed figures on health tourism, which it defined in two categories, first as “people who have travelled with a deliberate intention to obtain free healthcare to which they are not entitled”, and secondly “frequent visitors registered with GPs who ‘take advantage’ of routine treatment.” These two categories represent a cost of “between £70m and £300m” to the NHS’ £109 billion budget. Taking the figure at the higher end of the scale, that still only constitutes 0.28% of the NHS budget.

I’m not sure what Mr Farage is talking about when he cites that £2 billion figure, as he did again last night. Well actually, I have a pretty good idea. I guess he is conflating the idea of “health tourism”, which is very specifically assigned to the act of taking NHS care without contributing to the NHS, with the usage of the NHS by all non-permanent British residents. Irrespective of whether they work or study here. Irrespective of their contributions in tax or National Insurance, or what they provide for their community.

That’s the only warped way UKIP can lay claim on that ridiculous £2 billion figure. Really, it’s between £70 and £300 million.

A third FOI request to the Department of Health showed that, of the estimated 107,800 people in the UK living with HIV, around 81,500 people received HIV care from the health service in 2012, with the cost of HIV services to NHS England sitting at £630 million. If this figure sounds large, put into context it represents around £12 per head for the taxpayer in England.

If, at its highest, health tourism costs 0.28% of our healthcare budget, then the health tourism from the HIV services budget can be estimated at around £1.8 million.
Even for a man like Nigel Farage, is saving three pence Sterling per head of England’s population really enough of an efficiency to justify a policy of discrimination against HIV-positive migrants? As BHIVA, the leading national association representing professionals in HIV care, said in their statement responding to Farage back in October: “His stance completely ignores the positive contribution made to society by people with HIV, and threatens to reignite the sort of discrimination and stigma attached to HIV that the vast majority of people in the UK had hoped was consigned to history.”

Or 3p per taxpayer. That’s right, three pennies a year, each. Hardly seems like “a severe problem with resources.”

What we saw in the debate last night was pathetic. It was a man pandering, irrespective of the economics, irrespective of the offence caused, irrespective of morality, to the basest opinions in Britain. He was shoring up his base. That’s Britain First. That’s the EDL. That’s former voters of the BNP. The worst part is, Farage may not even believe in this stuff himself. He may be just saying it. How messed-up is that?

Stewart MacDonald, PPC for the SNP in Glasgow South, said it most eloquently in a piece for Bella:

What Farage has failed to mention is how people live with HIV in the modern age. We now know more about the disease than ever before, meaning that drugs are widely available to those diagnosed with HIV so that they can live an otherwise normal and healthy life. A virus that previously sentenced millions to death is now being contained, meaning that people can still live a life with their loved ones, mothers, uncles, brothers and friends. No longer do we incubate people and manage their death. Instead we treat people medically and empower them to overcome the stigma that is, albeit slowly, dying off. People with HIV are living and working amongst us. Nigel Farage knows this.

Yes, he knows. He just doesn’t care. He wants migrants with HIV gone, irrespective of whether they work or study here, irrespective of their contributions in tax or National Insurance, irrespective of what they provide for their community. And irrespective of the fact that it barely registers on the health service’s bill.

What a sad little man.


Originally published here on Bella Caledonia

That's because Labour wouldn't let the job centres advertise them.

This - though I've paraphrased - was David Cameron's pathetic, weasel-worded explanation for the explosion in food banks his government has presided over, during his recent Battle for Number 10 interview with Jeremy Paxman. He was lying. He was lying wilfully. In the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's analysis on this subject, the number one reason for the use of food banks is benefit sanctions and delays.

This inhumane regime is literally driving people to their deaths.

A father, Benjamin Del MacDonald, who "doted" on his five-year-old daughter, was driven to suicide in East Lancashire after his benefits were stopped last November.

The same month, a woman who suffered from chronic back pain - and founded her own charity for others suffering from chronic pain - killed herself after the DWP threatened benefit withdrawal and also demanded thousands of pounds from her in backdated benefits. On the day the results of the inquest into Julia Kelly's death were announced, Iain Duncan Smith called taking people off benefits an example of "Conservative compassion."

Army veteran and diabetic David Clapson who served during the Troubles, died in Stevenage last July with no food in his stomach, £3.44 in his account, and an out-of-credit electricity meter. He was unable to keep his insulin chilled as a result. He died of diabetic ­ketoacidosis.

Sheila Holt from Rochdale, who had suffered from severe bipolar disorder since childhood, was forced into the Work Programme in 2013. She was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in December of that year, after the pressure from the Work Programme led her into a manic episode. Later she had a heart attack that put her into a coma and caused brain damage. She died last month in hospital.

A man Irvine Welsh described as "the poet laureate of Leith", Paul Reekie, committed suicide only a month after the Coalition Government came to power, after his housing benefit, along with the incapacity benefit he claimed for severe depression, was stopped.

These are just five examples from a heinously long list. The DWP has carried out "60 peer reviews following the death of a customer" since 2012. Some customer service that is.

The Conservatives are not planning to disclose where the £12 billion of further welfare cuts they have proposed are going to fall. Five weeks out from an election and they aren't even willing to lie about it. They're just not telling.

Cameron spoke of cuts to welfare as though they were the only option. Nuclear weapons we'll never use and maintain purely for prestige are more important than society's most vulnerable. A train line is more important than society's most vulnerable. Cutting tax for people earning millions is more important than society's most vulnerable. Burning through cash to bomb what is now a hell-hole, Libya, was more important than society's most vulnerable.

But it's worse than merely not helping them. They've actively fucked them. Benefit sanctions that kill. Nearly a million on foodbanks. The slave labour of Workfare. The closing of all Remploy factories. Their complicity, their participation, in the right-wing press' demonisation agenda, against anyone who's not from round here or has fallen on hard times.

The costs of benefit fraud are completely dwarfed by those of tax avoidance and evasion. It's like being a shopkeeper, getting your till emptied by professional thieves, then rounding on the kid who nicked a couple cola bottles out the pick 'n' mix.

The City of London - and ridiculously, deliberately convoluted UK tax laws - are a huge part of this epidemic. Yes, it's an international problem. But as The Economist put it in 2013:

The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules.

Everyone knows this. Some call the Square Mile the "tax haven capital of the world". They are the international problem - at the very least, a huge part of it. Along with the politicians they bankroll. George Osborne's tokenistic £5 billion target on recouped avoided tax in his recent budget - only 5% of the black hole avoidance and evasion is estimated to generate -  would have more crediblity had it not come from a man who, as an MP, recommended "legal" tax avoidance to a caller live on national television.

But no, it's welfare that's the problem. That, and funding for local councils. These are the only two areas besides their own Government departments the Conservatives can possibly think to cut - social security and core local services.

Iain Duncan Smith can't tell us where exactly, though - at least, not until the Tories are safely back in power. The same despicable man whose disastrous tenure as leader of the Conservative Party was backed by the pro-Apartheid Springbok Club, while his campaign for leader was vice-chaired by the father of Nick Griffin, Edgar Griffin, a believer in voluntary repatriation for ethnic minorities. The same man who ignored the food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, for a year while they asked for an audience to talk about child poverty, but instead then met JP fucking Morgan to brainstorm the issue. The same man whose Damascene conversion to social justice in Easterhouse in 2002 was revealed as the cruellest and most shallow demagoguery when he actually got a chance to do something about it.

Not even this well-practised forked tongue deigns us worthy of a lie. It's none of our business where they cut. Although DWP leaks suggest restrictions on Child Benefit, tightening eligibility criteria for the Carer's Allowance, and most ludicrous of all, taxing Disability Benefit. Taxing a benefit. You read that right.

But these are just ideas, we're assured. I mean, sometimes I get the idea I'd like to watch PMQ's, but then I remember I'd rather eat my own eyes. However, does anyone think for a nanosecond that the Tories we've seen over the last five years - diluted by the Liberal Democrats, let's remember - would balk at a single one of these proposals?

I am no fan of Labour. They invented the benefit sanction. They laid the groundwork for the bedroom tax. Their complete complicity in the Thatcherite media narrative dominating UK politics is beyond depressing. I am very glad to have the SNP to vote for instead. That said, I'd infinitely rather have a shitty Labour government than the unbearably cruel hypocrites and liars in the Conservative Party.

I was taught that looking after your most vulnerable was the mark of a civilised society. We are not a civilised society. The privileged and comfortable might scoff at that, but the families of people who've killed themselves in desperation, because of a benefits system designed to make their lives a misery of stigma and hardship - I don't think they would.

When Cameron talks about "finishing the job", be afraid. Think what that means in relation to the people in our society who need help the most. There is only one word for this Prime Minister, this Party, this Government.