Thursday, 7 May 2009

Alan Johnson: Why inequality matters

Alan Johnson's speech to the Fabians argued that Labour must place its mission to narrow inequalities at the centre of public debate about the response to the recession.

{Link to full speech text will follow}

Johnson refused to accept that a social agenda to narrowing inequalities should be sacrificed to a new politics of austerity, arguing that this choice would represent a return to "red meat politics" as real political choices re-emerged "after a long period of political cross-dressing".

"Now is the time for more ambition, not less. As commentators suggest that moving from a debt ratio of 40% of GDP to 79% is some kind of apocalypse, it is fitting to remember that the NHS was created at a time when the debt ratio was 213% of GDP because the Attlee government had the imagination and the courage to look beyond the bleak post-war world in which it was created. We need to be equally courageous today".

He argued that the Conservatives had paid "lip service" to investing in public services in good times but had reverted to type in a recession, he said, casting David Cameron as the Phantom of the Opera whose mask had slipped to reveal the hideous reality of austerity conservatism.

Johnson suggested that the question of whether inequality mattered was the central clash of ideas between the parties, praising the Black Report of 1979 for having made a seminal contribution to the international consensus that the social determinants of health are just as important as genetics.

Yet Black's report "fell on stony ground" because it put "an inconvenient truth" for Margaret Thatcher, whose government "denied that the social determinants of health even existed".

"The price which our society has paid for ignoring the Black Report is substantial", said Johnson.

The government returned to health inequalities in commissioning the 1997 Acheson Review, and today's review of health inequalities assessed the progress over the last decade.

Infant mortality at its lowest ever level: the gains had been greatest among manual workers.

Life expectancy had risen overall by 3 years for men and 2.1 years for women - and the poorest had made proportionately the largest gains.

"While the gap remains, the health of the people in the poorest categories is now at the level of the broader population in 1997", said Johnson.

This meant deepening the agenda to address health inequalities.

"This work does not happen on the fringes of policy-making. It is central to everything we do", said Johnson, as he announced that Michael Marmot had been commissioned to recommend next steps to deepen the attack on inequalities.

"Progress has been hard won and it is still not enough. But we have provided a platform". The evidence shows that "if governments have the ambition, the imagination and the will, they can make real differences in areas like child poverty and health inequalities", said Johnson.


Bearded Socialist said...

I enjoyed a good and inspiring lecture. He really set out what it means to be a lefty in these times and how important it is.
Shame there wasn't a bloggers corner that would could have all met in.

Also, a pity that he couldn't stay longer as I had questions to ask him, but that's the busy life of a secretary of state I suppose.

Good work from the Fabians though

Zio Bastone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zio Bastone said...

As Health Secretary Alan Johnson is, of course, responsible (a) for the NHS, through which New Labour induced public/private arrangements run like a bad bout of MRSA and (b) for declaring hypocritically that cancer patients could not combine NHS and privately funded treatments.

Besides having the intellectual depth and reach of a badly designed paper bag he is, morally, beneath contempt.