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Medical researchers have finally proven what many already know to be true. Tory cuts to public services are quite literally killing working class people in Britain!

According to a major article published in last Thursday’s Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, England and Wales suffered the biggest annual rise in deaths for almost fifty years between 2014 and 2015!

The reason, the researchers state, is clear: “The evidence points to a major failure of the health system, possibly exacerbated by failings in social care.”

Total annual deaths have been decreasing year-on-year since the 1970s. But in 2011, the year after the Tory-Liberal coalition government began its program of brutal austerity, this trend went into reverse.

Professor Danny Dorling, an advisor to Public Health England on older age life expectancy, explained:

“When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality – especially among women – since 2012. I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services – to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly. We have seen these changes during a period when the health service is in crisis, while social care services have been cut back.”

The research further warned that the “spike” was showing signs of becoming an established pattern, with provisional official weekly mortality data from 2016 showing deaths from October onwards increasing by 7% compared with the five-year average.

The analysis, carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, shows that over the course of 2015 there were 5.4 per cent more deaths in England than the year before – equating to almost 27,000 extra deaths.

Just let that sink in for a moment. 27,000 people in one year, needlessly dead because of government cuts!

But it is senseless to appeal to the Tories’ sense of decency. Their commitment to the profit motive is implacable, and no amount of human suffering will stand in their way — unless of course it begins to awaken forces that might threaten their system.

Will Labour fight back?

One group we might expect to be fighting back against these conditions is the Labour Party – especially since it is predominantly Labour cities that have borne the brunt of the Tories’ savage cuts to public services.

But unfortunately we have not yet seen a response from Labour councils that treats the situation with the seriousness it deserves, despite the fact that their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has a track record of defending the working class.

Whenever Labour councils, who have been overseeing these cuts, have been asked to consider fighting back against austerity they have responded meekly that their hands are tied. Some of them even claim to take pride in the work they are carrying out, because of their uniquely humane approach to cutting living standards.

This misunderstands the nature of cuts. There is no longer (was there ever?) a humane way of cutting public services. Each cut comes on top of a mountain of others and thus serves to further aggravate an already deadly problem.

There is a lesson in this for the Green Party as well. Scottish Greens, although claiming to be anti-austerity, are presenting the £160 million reduction in the SNP’s original cut for councils of £327 million as a big victory. If the Greens were serious about opposing austerity they would be searching for an alternative.

And such an alternative does exist. The problem is that it requires our MPs and councillors to fight!

Any councillor who claims to oppose austerity should follow the advice of the GMB (the UK’s second biggest union), the Welsh TUC, and Unite and UNISON’s local government service groups, and ask their finance officers to look into setting a legal no cuts budget.

Labour councils have plenty of money in reserves. This, combined with prudential borrowing powers and capitalisation, could be used to temporarily stop the cuts, and buy the time necessary to build and lead a mass movement against austerity.

 

As Corbyn’s two election victories prove, the space has opened up for the growth of a mass anti-austerity party, in deeds as well as words. Labour has the potential to become this party, but Corbyn remains a prisoner of the Blairites.

Corbyn needs to put forward a strategy to defeat the cuts. Labour cannot sit on their hands in the hope that they will win a General Election in 2020. Indeed, election victory in 2020 is hardly assured in Labour councils continue to carry out Tory austerity for the next three years, with little to no concrete resistance.

Corbyn must give up trying to conciliate the Blairites: call for mandatory reselection, and call for councils to set legal no cuts budgets to halt austerity.

The party will split, and Labour would be left with fewer MPs and councillors. But the party would then be united in opposing austerity and supporting workers in struggle. Far from being unpopular, such an anti-austerity Labour Party could quickly make electoral gains.

Those who leave Corbyn’s Labour, by contrast, would be free to join the rest of the right wing social democracies (PASOK in Greece, PHOE in Spain, Labour in Ireland, etc), who have shamelessly presided over unprecedented cuts to living standards, on the ash heap of history.

Corbyn’s fate is tied up with that of our services in more ways than one. Time is running out for both.

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