By Geena Patel – Contributor
Whilst strikes appear to have become an everyday occurrence, for some sectors it is unprecedented. Never have nurses or ambulance workers conducted strikes on the degree seen today, which is a striking indicator of the dire situation several public sectors and its’ workers face. After 13 years under a Conservative government, it is clear teachers, nurses and ambulance workers have had enough of enduring the government’s abhorrent and undermining treatment towards them.
Throughout its 13-year tenure, the Conservatives have slowly been able to implement the true nature of their vision for UK society- that is minimal state involvement in areas that many have become accustomed to such funding. It began with reforms to NHS such as private contractors being introduced into the NHS as a means of operating GPs and having to pay for dentist and opticians’ appointment if one is financially sufficient in doing so. Indeed, this has epitomised with Sajid David’s argument that people should pay for GP appointments and to receive life-saving treatment in A&E, which completely defies the concept of universal healthcare that has been fundamental to British society for over 70 years. Whilst committing to this slow but sly privatisation, addressing the long-term issues of the NHS has been put aside by the Conservatives such as integrating social care and healthcare as the aging population become ever dependent. Quite frankly, the extent of wealth within the Conservative Party is another reason as to why NHS workers are striking, because they are simply out of touch with the NHS’s desperate situation. Indeed, Rishi Sunak’s combined wealth with his wife of a noticeable £730 million illuminates the true disparity between the very pinnacle of government and much of the UK’s population. Since many Conservative MPs and ministers are connected to private healthcare firms, they have not taken the sufficient action necessary to solve issues which have been gradually permeating the NHS. It has now left the NHS in a diabolical position, as not only has the general population become apathetic, the staff have decided the only way to save the NHS from continuing to spiral into disaster is to strike.
A very similar situation is also occurring within the education sector, though it is directed less at privatisation but rather severely underfunding schools across the nations. Ever since 2010, public spending on education has dropped from 5.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 3.9%, which has left state schools without the necessary funding and resources to provide a decent education for many of the nations’ children. The lack of necessary funding, particularly as many schools have expanded in size to handle an increasing population, leaving teachers often having to resort to their own money to buy resources, an experience Chloe Cummings, a primary school teacher in Scotland, is all too familiar with. The demise of the quality of state-funded education can be derived from the prevalence of private education is present in the Conservative Party, with 45% of the party’s MPs being privately educated. Going through a privileged and almost exclusive manner of education means the Conservatives are unable to genuinely connect to the education sector’s needs as a collective, as all many have known is the pinnacle of teaching, which can only really be accessed through paying eye-watering fees. The Conservatives lack of grasp on the true picture of what the genuine state of state education brings into question, without doubt, whether the concept of equality of opportunity within society is still an applicable entity. Especially given that several private schools have a charitable fee and do not end up paying taxes, comprehensive schools do not have the sufficient funds to pay teachers enough to retain sufficient amounts within the profession.
A major demand from those striking across all public sectors, that is better funding stems from the constant underfunding ever since 2010. Increased funding would not only fulfil the pay rises the unions are asking for, yet also be able to solve the issues of understaffing, a prevalent problem across the private sector. Although economic damage from the financial crisis of 2008 arguably required a reduction in public services funding, the amount of spending has been severely inconsistent in line with private sector wage growth and prices increasing over the last 13 years. As private sector pay rises have risen over 40%, public sector pay has rose to only half of that, which has left several public sectors with astonishing amounts of vacancies, as a result of high numbers leaving professions paired with the financial appeal of the private sector. The real-time pay cuts of 20% for nurses and 8% for teachers in line with inflation have left people of these vital professions struggling to pay for everyday entities, especially in the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis. There is also a sense of irony to the Conservative’s treatment towards nurses and teachers, especially the former, because less than two years ago, the government was praising the work of nurses in being instrumental during the pandemic. Such irony can be extended to Jeremy Hunt allowing the cap of bankers’ bonuses to be raised to encourage economic growth, whilst not considering the pay rises and better working conditions so many are asking for. The stark contrast in attitude towards the financial sector and public sector underscores the Conservatives’ inability to be fair and treat all in society equally.
The Conservative’s ideal conception of minimal state intervention in society has only left the public sector in a position close to absolute ruin. Unpaid work, unprecedented levels of work-related stress and insufficient wages are only a few of the problems which the Conservatives are unwilling and incapable of fixing. Although their lack of intervention aligns with Conservatism, this hesitancy highlights the government’s lack of ability to govern England in a humane and compassionate way.