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A Question of Priorities: Bombs or Public Health?

Public health services saw deep cuts during the period in which the RAF rained down thousands of bombs on Iraq and Syria says Mayer Wakefield

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"That £2.5 billion pounds spent on Tornado missions alone could have made up the shortfall in our public health services for half of the five-year period since these airstrikes began."


It is estimated that the total cost of a six-hour Tornado bombing mission in Syria or Iraq, the like of which the Royal Air Force have carried out in thousands over the past five years, is £508,000. Two Tornados fly each mission taking the cost to just over £1,000,000 per mission. According to Drone Wars figures obtained by FOI request, the RAF flew 2,464 such missions between August 2014 and December 2019 – the estimated cost of which is therefore close to £2.46 billion.

These are astounding figures in and of themselves. The idea of almost £2.5 billion of taxpayer’s money being spent bombing war-stricken countries is sickening. There are an infinite number of ways this obscene amount of money could have been much better spent to the relief of those countries or indeed in our own.

As the UK has become the second worst hit country on the planet in terms of deaths, the Coronavirus crisis has shown just how stretched our world-renowned health service has become following a decade of underinvestment and over two decades of systemic privatisation. Yes, the NHS has largely coped with the first wave of the pandemic and we all owe huge gratitude to those who staff it but serious questions remain as to why the UK remains in such a perilous position despite its world-class health service.

It also raises the question of how that £2.5 billion spent pounding countries in Middle East with high-tech missiles could have been better spent preparing the UK for a global pandemic. It is not as if the government or the MOD were unaware of the risk of such an outbreak. A 2014 MoD Report titled Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045 stated that “the likelihood of disease outbreak could…be mitigated by alertness to changing trends in infectious diseases”.

Monitoring such trends is the responsibility of several bodies which mainly fall under the realm of public health services. Disturbingly, public health has been an area of consistent underinvestment in recent years. Last year, analysis by the Health Foundation showed that “the public health grant which enables local authorities to deliver vital preventive services” was now £850 million lower in real terms than in 2015/16 – the same time the UK began bombing missions in Iraq.

Although Rishi Sunak’s first budget as Chancellor in March pledged to increase the public health grant by £145 million, the Faculty of Public Health made clear that “further funding will be needed to reverse years of cuts to public health services”. They go onto say that the “FPH has long called for a £1 billion increase for the public health budget”, a call echoed by other health bodies including the Health Foundation and The King’s Fund. That Sunak’s increase is less than 15% of the amount these bodies were calling for at the outset of the Coronavirus crisis in March further reinforces a picture of long-term neglect of our public health institutions.

Now what does this all have to do with the bombing of Syria and Iraq you may ask? Well it is a simple question of priorities. That £2.5 billion pounds spent on Tornado missions alone could have made up the shortfall in our public health services for half of the five-year period since these airstrikes began. The government could easily have prioritised these vital services, enabling it to better deal with the pandemic currently crippling the nation, instead they were making a deliberate political choice to fund the plunder of the Middle East.

We must ask ourselves if the world as a whole would be in a better place had those thousands of bombs not been dropped and if those billions of pounds would have been better spent negating the outbreak of a pandemic in what is now the second worst affected country on earth? The answer to both is a resounding yes.

Tags: iraq, syria

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