Wasted years are turning into a real crisis for the country

The Houses of Parliament

'It’s difficult not to conclude that things are slowly falling apart' - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As I waited to see my dentist the other week, I overheard the receptionist telling some poor person that the practice had a four-year waiting list to become an NHS patient. I looked down at my phone and there was a story about a 97-year-old woman in Brixham, who had broken her hip and lay on the floor, waiting for help, for eight hours before either an ambulance or her GP could get to her. When I got home, this paper was reporting yet another massive rise in council tax from the County Council. Then I looked up the figures on their website and saw that the increase is entirely to pay for adult and children’s social care, while many services (like Highways) will see their funding cut in real terms.

It’s difficult not to conclude that things are slowly falling apart. A letter-writer in this paper has questioned why columnists from the East Devon Alliance write about national as well as local issues. The problem is that the UK is a highly centralised country. Public services, whether the NHS or local government, are dependent on the funds the national government allows them in order to get anything done in their area. And we have a government that introduced austerity in 2010, claiming it was an emergency measure, but (with a partial exception during the pandemic) has kept it going for 12 years because a ‘small state’ is what Conservatives actually believe in.

12 wasted years. 12 years in which, even before the pandemic, NHS waiting lists grew, roads crumbled, green investment stalled, incomes stagnated, and homeownership became impossible for many young (and not so young) people. Half the time has been wasted on Brexit, which it has become clear has damaged the fishing industry it was supposed to help, produced trade deals that are damaging British agriculture, and led to a level of bureaucracy which is making it uneconomic for many businesses to trade with Europe. I gather that in some ways it’s been good for Ireland, but that wasn’t exactly the point, was it?

12 wasted years are now turning into a real crisis. Huge increases in fuel bills, rising food prices, the Government’s new tax to pay for the NHS (I thought that leaving the EU was supposed to do that?) - and the Governor of the Bank of England says that workers shouldn’t ask for compensating pay rises, even as he raises the cost of borrowing? The problem, alas, is that many Devon workers will struggle to get pay rises even if they push.

On top of this, Rishi Sunak is determined to cut the remaining pandemic spending, like free testing and support for self-isolation, regardless of the fact that 1,000 people a week are still dying of Covid. Boris Johnson is pretending that the pandemic is over, but what he’s really doing is burying the information about it - it’s estimated that there are still 200,000 new infections a day in the UK. While the average vaccinated person may get away with a fairly mild disease, the frail, the vulnerable and the immunosuppressed will be more exposed to potentially fatal illness if people don’t test or isolate.

This irresponsible deception is typical of our present rulers, who float above us in a fantasy world where Britain is always greatest, new hospitals aplenty are being built and the police are flooding back onto local streets. Meanwhile, Conservative MPs, like East Devon’s Simon Jupp and Neil Parish, continue to postpone their reckoning with the man in Downing Street. I suppose it’s human nature to want to put off a difficult confrontation, especially with someone so devious and power-obsessed as Johnson. However, a reckoning postponed is not necessarily made easier. My hunch is that an even bigger political mess is coming. And meanwhile, our real problems will mount exponentially.