Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Something for nothing: a dangerous mentality. Especially in government

There’s often talk of the science of business. In reality, though, it’s all about instinct. This is particularly true among many senior executives who just know their gut feel is somehow enlightened and leads them to excellent judgements, hidden to others.

So rather than laws and principles, business tends to spew out aphorisms. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And, particularly relevant here, “you never get anything for nothing.”

Just because they seem neither deep nor inspired doesn’t make these sayings untrue. In fact, they are often about as good a guide to what actually happens in business as anyone gets. One would, therefore, expect any reasonably experienced businessman to know them. One might even expect a political party pretty much in hock to business interests to be familiar with them too.

That makes it slightly ironic that our present government, here in Britain, spends so much time trying to convince us that you really can get something for nothing.

Generally, the people accused of trying to get something for nothing are the poor or disenfranchised. It’s people who are dependent on benefits, or who are asking for a little more to make ends meet. Business leaders or Tory Ministers are quick to condemn them. And yet that’s precisely the approach Tories are taking to some of the most important parts of our society.

It seems to be their philosophy towards the NHS, for instance. Their mantra is “get more for less.” You can actually do that, for a while, as you drive out inefficiencies. But we’ve been driving them out for a good twenty years or so. There comes a point where you’re not cutting out fat any more, you’re cutting into muscle or even bone.

But the government keeps going. It’s demanding that junior doctors do more work at weekends, so that we can move to a seven-day NHS. But it expects them to do that for no extra money.

Can you imagine one of the great consultancy companies, or financial advisers, or even lawyers agreeing to do extra hours for no more money? Surely the government, so close to such people, knows that they’d never wear it. What makes them think others would go along with it?

Another key element in the government’s healthcare strategy is to get more care delivered outside hospitals. In particular, by the social care sector. So it’s a concern that Britain’s biggest chain of care homes, Four Seasons Health Care, is apparently in serious financial difficulty, with only a few months of cash left ahead of it.

A home run by Four Seasons Health Care
A concern, but not a surprise. Social care is funded by local government, and central government has been starving municipalities of funds. Inevitably, that’s working through to the care providers, like Four Seasons. Again, it’s simply a matter of trying to get something for nothing: social care able to relieve the pressure on the NHS, for less money than it had in the past.

One of the factors that’s made life so hard for the care home sector is the government’s promise to move the minimum up to a level that will make it the “national living wage.” There is a thing called the “living wage”, calculated by independent bodies, and it’s substantially higher than the government’s “national” version. But even the lower level is hard for social care to absorb.

And yet the government has to see wages of the lowest paid rise, to justify why it’s cutting the support it gives them at the moment, through so-called tax credits. 

Follow the reasoning carefully: the Tories want to cut the benefits, justified by moves towards a living wage, even though their target for wage rises falls far short, and in any case they don’t intend to help out the care homes who are suffering, and on whom they depend to take cases from the NHS.

Sound like voodoo economics to you? That’s because it is voodoo economics. No one believes in it, not even the government. It’s all based on the idea that you can get something for nothing, which it knows it can’t.

So basically it’s just a smokescreen. It’s cutting back the state and leaving people dependent on it in even worse conditions than before. All the rest is just words to cover up the onslaught.

Meanwhile the Tories’ friends and paymasters are doing just fine, as top pay continues to rise astronomically.

Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch after all…

And an update: The UK government has now made an 11% offer to junior doctors. I dont want to be curmudgeonly, and Im pleased the offer's been made, but I have to say that its an admission that the Tories had it wrong before. Besides, it would be good to see something done for other groups than doctors – such as workers on or little above the minimum wage.

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