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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Larouche on the NHS

The far-right Larouche organisation has produced a video where it compares the British NHS with Hitler’s T4 program.

Let me first give some background history to our NHS before addressing the nonsense put forward in the video.

In the first-half of the 20th century, most of the major industrialized nations introduced social welfare legislation. This came about because of the pressure from the working-class who had recently been granted the vote. This was especially true of women voters (it had been the policy of virtually all the women’s suffrage organizations).

In 1902 George Barnes, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, formed the National Committee of Organised Labour for Old Age Pension. Barnes spent the next three years travelling the country urging this social welfare reform. The measure was extremely popular and was an important factor in Barnes being able to defeat Andrew Bonar Law , the Conservative cabinet minister in the 1906 General Election.

David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal government led by Herbert Asquith in 1908, was also an opponent of the Poor Law in Britain. He was determined to take action that in his words would "lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor". He believed the best way of doing this was to guarantee an income to people who were too old to work. In 1908 Lloyd George introduced the Old Age Pensions Act that provided between 1s. and 5s. a week to people over seventy. These were only paid to citizens on incomes that were not over 12s.

To pay for these pensions David Lloyd George had to raise government revenues by an additional £16 million a year. In 1909 Lloyd George announced what became known as the People's Budget. This included increases in taxation. Whereas people on lower incomes were to pay 9d in the pound, those on annual incomes of over £3,000 had to pay 1s. 2d. in the pound. Lloyd George also introduced a new supertax of 6d. in the pound for those earning £5000 a year. Other measures included an increase in death duties on the estates of the rich and heavy taxes on profits gained from the ownership and sale of property.

The Conservatives, who had a large majority in the House of Lords, objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. After a long struggle with the House of Lords, Lloyd George finally got his budget through parliament. As a result of this conflict, the Liberal Government passed the 1911 Parliament Act that restricted the power of the House of Lords to block legislation passed by the House of Commons.

Lloyd George's next reform was the 1911 National Insurance Act. This gave the British working classes the first contributory system of insurance against illness and unemployment. All wage-earners between sixteen and seventy had to join the health scheme. Each worker paid 4d a week and the employer added 3d. and the state 2d. In return for these payments, free medical attention, including medicine was given. Those workers who contributed were also guaranteed 7s. a week for fifteen weeks in any one year, when they were unemployed.

Lloyd George's reforms were strongly criticised and some Conservatives accused him of being a socialist. There was no doubt that he had been heavily influenced by Fabian Society pamphlets on social reform that had been written by Beatrice Webb, Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw in the early 1900s. However, he had also been influenced by non-socialist writers such Seebohm Rowntree and Charles Booth.

Although most Labour Party members of the House of Commons had welcomed Lloyd George's reforms, politicians such as James Keir Hardie, Fred Jowett and George Lansbury argued that the level of benefits were far too low. They also complained that the pensions should be universal and disliked what was later to be called the Means Test aspect of these reforms.

Other European countries followed Britain’s example and by the 1930s all the major advanced industrial countries had created the basis of their own Welfare State. Although the rich objected to the higher-taxes they had to pay, these measures were highly popular with the vast majority of the population. Even so, it did not go far enough and poor people died in their thousands because of inadequate cover for health-care.

The government argued that because of the “great depression” the country could not afford these reforms. However, there was a clear understanding that once the economy improved a much more substantial welfare-state would be introduced.

During the Second World War the government became concerned about the commitment of the British people to winning the war. Many remembered the government of the First World War promising a “land fit for heroes” if we won the war. It was a promise that was never kept. This time Winston Churchill realised that the government had to make specific promises in order to have the desired effect on the British people.

Churchill asked Sir William Beveridge to write a report on the best ways of helping people on low incomes. In December 1942 Beveridge published a report that proposed that all people of working age should pay a weekly contribution. In return, benefits would be paid to people who were sick, unemployed, retired or widowed. Beveridge argued that this system would provide a minimum standard of living "below which no one should be allowed to fall". Beveridge also suggested the idea of a National Health Service.

During the 1945 General Election, Winston Churchill, promised to implement the Beveridge Report. So did the Labour Party. In a radio election broadcast in May 1945 made an attack on Labour’s welfare state plans: “I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to British ideas on freedom. There is to be one State, to which all are to be obedient in every act of their lives. This State, once in power, will prescribe for everyone: where they are to work, what they are to work at, where they may go and what they may say, what views they are to hold, where their wives are to queue up for the State ration, and what education their children are to receive. A socialist state could not afford to suffer opposition - no socialist system can be established without a political police. They (the Labour government) would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo.”

These comments are not unlike those being made by right-wing Republicans today. Churchill’s comments backfired as the British people wanted the introduction of a welfare state. His speech confirmed that the Conservatives were not committed to implementing the Beveridge Report.

Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party responded the following night: "The Prime Minister made much play last night with the rights of the individual and the dangers of people being ordered about by officials. I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others. There was a time when employers were free to work little children for sixteen hours a day. I remember when employers were free to employ sweated women workers on finishing trousers at a penny halfpenny a pair. There was a time when people were free to neglect sanitation so that thousands died of preventable diseases. For years every attempt to remedy these crying evils was blocked by the same plea of freedom for the individual. It was in fact freedom for the rich and slavery for the poor. Make no mistake, it has only been through the power of the State, given to it by Parliament, that the general public has been protected against the greed of ruthless profit-makers and property owners."

The result was the Labour Party had a landside victory (393 seats compared to 197 for the Conservatives). Over the next few years the Labour government fully implemented the Welfare State. This included the National Insurance Act in 1946 that created the structure of the Welfare State. The legislation instituted a comprehensive state health service, effective from 5th July 1948. The Act provided for compulsory contributions for unemployment, sickness, maternity and widows' benefits and old age pensions from employers and employees, with the government funding the balance.

People in work, except married women, paid 4s 11d a week in National Insurance contributions. For the average worker, this amounted to nearly 5 per cent of their income. James Griffiths, the new Minister of National Insurance, claimed that it was "the best and cheapest insurance policy offered to the British people, of any people anywhere."

Winston Churchill and the Tories fought these measures every step of the way. They were supported by the private insurance health companies that stood to lose most from this system (as is the case in the United States today). However, the Labour Party had such a large majority in the House of Commons that they were able to introduce the National Health Service.

At the next election Churchill had to promise that he would leave the National Health Service alone. Every leader of the Conservative Party has had to follow this policy. The maker of the LaRouche suggests that David Cameron’s defence of the NHS is some sort of conspiracy. He is just doing what every Tory leader has done since the 1950 General Election. It would be impossible for any Tory to gain power without convincing the electorate that the NHS would function in the same way as it does under Labour. Without this assurance he cannot win the next election. That is an example of just how much the British value the NHS.

The video attempts to resurrect the arguments put forward by Winston Churchill in 1945 (dropped of course by the next election as he realised that the British public would not be fooled by such daft arguments).

Reference is made several times to Hitler’s T4 program that was introduced in October 1939. The LaRouche organization claims that the T4 program is similar to the way the NHS works. Therefore, the video goes onto to use phrases such as “Nazi NHS” and Obama is described as advocating “Hitlerian health reforms”.

Of course, people in Britain find this kind of attack deeply offensive. My father, like millions of other British citizens, fought the Nazis from 1939. We were not like the Americans who only decided they did not like fascism until after they were bombed at Pearl Harbor.

The video does not give us any details of Hitler’s T4 program. This is understandable as it has nothing to do with the NHS or Obama’s health-care reforms. In October 1939, Hitler produced details of the T4 program under the title, “The Destruction of Lives Unworthy of Life”:

The camouflage organization created for the medical killing of adults was known as the Reich Work Group of Sanatoriums and Nursing Homes. It operated from the Berlin Chancellery, at Tiergarten 4, hence the "T4" code name. In time, word of the Nazi T4 program (medical killing on a vast scale) filtered down into the general population, and resistance began to emerge. Himmler argued: “If operation T4 had been entrusted to the SS, things would have happened differently, because when the Fuehrer entrusts us with a job, we know how to deal with it correctly, without causing useless uproar among the people.”

Early in 1941, Hitler agreed to let Himmler use T4 personnel and facilities to rid the camps of “those most seriously ill, physically and mentally”. This became known as “prisoner euthanasia”. Hitler gave orders on 24th August 1941 to bring an end to T4. What was discontinued was only the visible dimension of the project: the large-scale gassing of patients. T4 officially ceased as a program, but that turned out to be still another deception. Widespread killing continued in a second phase, sometimes referred to in Nazi documents as “wild euthanasia” because doctors could now act on their own initiative concerning who would live or die.

For more information on this I suggest you read Robert Jay Lifton’s “The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide” (1986)

Several times the video refers to NICE as being the organization that administers the “British Nazi health-care system”.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health. According to the video it is NICE that decides who is to live or die in Britain. I image this is reference to one of the roles that NICE plays in the NHS:

“NICE is asked to look at particular drugs and devices when there is confusion or uncertainty over the value of a drug or device or when prescribing practices vary across the country - so that patients may be receiving different prescribed treatments, depending on where they happen to live, rather than on the state of their health.”

The role of NICE is to look into the claims made by the multinational drug companies. For example, over the last few years these corporations have claimed that they have developed a new drug that helps deal with a particular health problem. These drugs are nearly always incredibly expensive. For example, the cost of this drug for a patient could amount to as much as £100,000 a year. Obviously, the NHS has to consider if it can afford to prescribe such drugs. NICE has upset several multinational drug companies by advising NHS doctors not to prescribe these drugs. There is nothing to stop doctors from prescribing private patients these drugs. Of course, this rarely happens as the private health insurance companies refuse to pay for these drugs. That is why it is so important for these drugs companies to persuade NICE to give their approval so that they can fleece the taxpayer.

The video uses the testimony of some patients complaining about the NHS. Any large institution will not satisfy all its customers. As I have posted earlier, my 95 year old mother has had marvelous treatment from the NHS (she is old enough to remember what health-care was like before the NHS was introduced in 1948). My wife also received excellent treatment for 12 years while suffering from cancer.

The NHS is far from being perfect. It is under-funded and I would like to see more money spent on health-care and less on nuclear weapons and the invasion and occupation of foreign countries. However, as a means of protecting people, regardless of income, it takes some beating. Anyway, it appears to be far superior to the one that exists in the United States. For example, the World Health Organisation ranks Britain's healthcare as 18th in the world, while the US is in 37th place.

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