While lagging behind in the European league table of critical care beds the UK is second place in the military spending league


The project to build HMS Queen Elizabeth and sister ship HMS Prince of Wales cost more than £6 billion

We are told that the first duty of any government is to keep its citizens safe, yet our government is blatantly failing to do so. From its callous ‘herd immunity’ policy to its years of ravaging the NHS, it is clear that the safety of its citizens is not high on this government’s agenda. While our NHS has been deliberately run down, and our healthcare and welfare systems depleted of staff and resources, the Conservative government has seen fit to increase military spending year on year. In the coming financial year the UK will exceed the NATO military spending target of 2% of GDP.

In 2005, and again in 2010, the UK government highlighted a global influenza epidemic as being one of the highest risks facing the country. Classed as a ‘tier 1’ risk preparing for such an epidemic should have been a top priority. Instead, under the guise of austerity, swathing cuts were made to the NHS and welfare system.

The coalition government, and the Tory governments that followed, cut, cut and cut again: hospital beds – cut, NHS staff – cut, equipment – cut, training – cut. Since 2010 the NHS has lost 17,000 beds. Today NHS England has only 4,000 critical care beds, equivalent to 6.6 beds per 100,000. That’s almost half the number as Italy (12.5/100,000) and far below the European average. Yet the UK, while lagging behind in the European league table of critical care beds, is at the top of the military spending league, taking second place among NATO’s European members.

In 2016, in the middle of the decade of austerity, the UK parliament voted to renew Trident, an obsolete nuclear weapons system, designed for the cold war era and dependent upon the US to operate. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has estimated that Trident renewal will cost the UK taxpayer the almost incomprehensible sum of £205bn. During the same period MPs voted to cut welfare provision for the disabled, for the poor and most vulnerable, to introduce the bedroom tax and reduce the NHS budget because there was no ‘magic money tree’. Meanwhile, spending vast sums on Trident – that won a 355 majority.

Investment in our military is now at its highest point in years. In December 2019, the Conservative Party manifesto promised that the Ministry of Defence would receive a 2.6% spending increase, equivalent to £2.2bn. This is one promise the government appears to be keeping. In 2016, we spent £36bn on defence, in 2018 £38bn, and for the current financial year 2020-21 the UK defence budget is set at a staggering £41.3bn. At the same time thousands of frontline NHS workers do not even have face masks to protect themselves against the deadly Coronavirus.

Over the last few days we have heard that some hospitals have already run out of critical care beds, and that there is a chronic shortage of life-saving ventilators. Due to lack of testing kits frontline staff cannot be tested for the virus, dramatically hindering the chances of containment. One NHS worker described frontline staff as being sent into hospitals like ‘lambs to the slaughter’.

The Coronavirus may be new but the threat of a viral pandemic has been identified as a serious risk to the UK for decades. Our lack of preparation and the appalling under investment in our health systems by successive governments will no doubt result in thousands of unnecessary deaths. Ever ready to squander our taxes on military ‘defence’ and ‘security’ the UK government has neglected its duty to keep its citizens safe.

Tags: united-kingdom

23 Mar 2020 by Terina Hine

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