Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuts, Slashings and Charitable Donations

It’s been a depressing week. Not that I don’t enjoy Christmas; I most certainly do. But this extra time off affords me the chance to catch up on news-worthy events around the globe.

I read on the BBC website the other day that the Indian space program (sorry, I’m a Brit... do you mind if I spell it programme?) suffered a set-back when their latest launch resulted in an in-flight explosion. In just a few seconds, an expensive rocket and satellite system checked out in a cloud of smoke off the Indian east coast near Chennai.

Ah, well. These things are sent to try us, no? If there’s one thing I know about the Indians it’s that their strength of character will see them prevail.

Another depressing story concerned the imminent funding cuts to the NHS budget in England. Cuts, indeed. Perverted, callous, merciless slashings, more accurately describes what’s going on.

20 billion pounds worth of ‘savings’ must be made over the next four years, according to the UK Treasury. It’s rhetoric such as this which leads me to believe that the word ‘compassion’ has been banished from Westminster.

Research -- statistics, dare I say? -- has proven that the higher the nurse:patient ratio, the greater the patient recovery rate. Up to 26% more patients make successful recoveries in hospitals where staffing levels are higher. If, as the Royal College of Nursing fears, these looming cuts lead to a staffing reduction of up to 27,000 posts, it is nothing more than common sense to predict that lives will be lost in Britain as a result of cutting the NHS budget.

Let me be clear: British lives will be lost thanks to the UK government’s abominable decision to cut the NHS budget. Add in the imminent cuts to the budgets for policing, ambulance cover, roads maintenance and social services (to name but a few), and the outlook is grim for the people of the UK over the next decade or longer.

I also read, with some dismay I might add, about the UK government’s decision to cease funding of the Booktrust scheme. The Booktrust scheme provides free books to children in England, with the intention of fostering a love of reading from an early age.

From April 2011, the charity will lose 13 million pounds of funding, and there can be no doubt that this decision will, in the short term, adversely affect the quality of life of British children. In the longer term, of course, the damage caused by the UK government’s Scrooge-like mentality towards its own citizens is immeasurable.

I admit to having a vested interest in people reading (and buying) books: I’m a writer; why would I not care about issues regarding literacy? Notwithstanding that, I think it’s nothing more than common sense to say that if we, as a society, allow our next generations to turn exclusively to some other medium for education or entertainment, we’ll be giving ourselves a kick in the pants down the slippery slope to illiteracy. And a society that is illiterate can never stand on its own two feet, let alone help out its friends in their time of need.

Now, that brings me to the notion of ‘standing on your own two feet’. It’s quite an apt turn of phrase, given the content of this post, and my other posts related to spending cuts.

Another article I had time to read this holiday period focused on one of the few budget increases announced in the last few months: UK foreign aid.

I’m no expert on the ins and outs of spending UK tax-payers’ money on funding development projects in far-flung corners of the globe. Please read that sentence again.

But I cannot let it pass without comment that, when a perilous situation is developing in its own back yard, the UK government remains committed to an INCREASE in its spending in foreign countries.

George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, announced on 20 October 2010 that the UK’s overseas development assistance (ODA) budget will increase in 2011 to 0.56% of the UK’s Gross National Income (GNI). By 2014, it will increase to 0.7% of GNI, as the Conservative party promised prior to this year’s general election.

Fair enough, the original decision was made by the out-going Labour chancellor, but to refuse to cut this budget is an idiotic decision made by an idiotic government. This is one spending spree that must be curtailed until such times as the people of the UK are more able to afford such luxuries.

Part of this increased ODA budget is destined for India, a country which recently announced plans to spend 124 billion rupees on a manned space mission by 2016 (BBC website, 27 Jan 2010). They’ve already set up a fully-fledged (and expensive, no doubt) spaceflight training facility in Bangalore, and in 2009 launched an unmanned space mission as a prelude to manned flights. Mars is also a target of the Indian space programme, by 2030 apparently.

A document obtained from the House of Commons library (Standard Note SN/EP/5578) reveals that the total of UK aid to India in 2008 was 29% of all worldwide aid received by that country, or about 613 million USD.

In 2009, India boasted the world’s 11th largest economy. They’re a nuclear-equipped power, with missiles (tested recently off the coast of Orissa (Odisha) province) that are capable of hitting targets in Asia and much of the middle east. In 2007, India’s TATA motor company bought that most British of icons, Landrover.

You know, a friend of mine back in Scotland slipped on ice and broke her hip last week. Her local council couldn’t afford the salt that would have made the pavements less slippy. Budget cuts, you see. And what with those NHS cuts, and the cuts to social services, things look grim for the poor old biddy’s recovery. But, enough digression...

It’s not just India the British government is ‘helping out’. Take the Chinese, for example - another world nuclear power. Although UK aid to China (sorry, that phrase still flabbergasts me when I see it in writing) is due to end next year, in 2011 the UK will still send them a bundle of cash from the British taxpayer.

The Chinese economy is bigger than the UK's. There are 128 Chinese billionaires. Only America has more. Care to guess which country has the third highest number of billionaires?

Yup. India. Britain lags way behind with 29, compared to India's 69.

Worldwide, there are 90 countries which currently receive aid from the UK taxpayer. While I don’t advocate a complete stop to UK support for these countries, I do want to see cuts to this budget, commensurate with the level of cuts being forced upon the UK’s local councils and government-funded bodies (the NHS, arts, universities, etc).

I see it as crass arrogance that Mr Cameron expects the people of the UK to bear the brunt of these ‘bad times’ while accepting the same level of spending on foreign aid. If it were the same level, that would be bad enough. But to tell us you’re increasing the sum, Mr Cameron, is to kick us in the guts when we’re down.

You’ll be glad to hear I’m coming to the end of my rant. I’ve no doubt many who read this will decry me for being selfish, for having no compassion, or for being a short-sighted racist.

Feel free to think what you want of me - I admit to being myopic. But I am not selfish; neither am I a racist (two of my closest friends are Indian); neither am I short of compassion for my fellows when they are in need.

It is precisely because of my compassion, in fact, that I urge David Cameron and his government to remember the old proverb: charity begins at home.

Do not allow the UK to become the sort of place where justice no longer matters.

Do not allow the UK to degenerate into such a state that we cannot afford to provide even the most basic of social services to people who have paid good money to receive those services.

And do not allow the UK to fester into the sort of place where our children do not know how to read. If you do, very soon the British people will be so illiterate and uneducated that we will not be able to look after ourselves, let alone help out a friend in need.

Reverse these cuts by cutting the UK's foreign aid budget. Do it now, Mr Cameron, before it’s too late and you’re remembered as the man who ruined Britain.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The trouble with statistics is that they’re easily skewed and seldom reveal a complete picture.

For example, government statistics reported in the Scottish press today reveal a significant fall in the country’s homicide rate - down 20% on last year - to levels not seen since 1979.

Knife crime, the ugly smudge on Scotland’s copybook, is also down, with homicides involving a ‘sharp instrument’ accounting for 35 of the nation’s 78 homicides last year.

This is excellent news: Scotland now ranks alongside Bulgaria and Romania on the European ‘homicides per head of population’ league table.

The Scottish government was quick to pat itself on the back. Justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said the success was thanks to the government’s drive to put a thousand extra Scottish police officers on the beat since 2007.

While I agree with the commitment to provide more cops at street level, I dispute Mr MacAskill’s assertion that homicide rates are falling because of his government’s commitment to fighting crime.

Common sense dictates that the gradual reduction in homicide rates over, say, the last hundred years is as much to do with advances made in medicine during the corresponding period. We’ve become much more competent at repairing stab wounds; it’s not necessarily the case that we’re less violent towards one another.

When collating the number of assaults involving knives and ‘sharp instruments’, is the degree of surgery the victim needs recorded? Surely that’s a significant factor in determining whether someone lives or becomes another homicide stat, but I doubt it’s being recorded or analysed.

In my opinion, it's our doctors, paramedics, nurses and surgeons who deserve our thanks, not some spineless politician.

A run of bad luck in theatre - or idiotic funding cuts to the NHS budget - and those homicide rates can skyrocket.

Government statistics? I seldom believe them. They’re too easily manipulated and only slightly more trustworthy than the average politician.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Libraries, Funding Cuts and Diabolical Politicians

Many of you have read my previous posts regarding the disastrous cuts being made to Britain's police forces, prisons and education budgets.

I read Nicola Morgan's post on the proposed cuts to library services today, and it turns my stomach to think of Britain degenerating to such an extent.

If you value your local library, use it. Use it to write to the UK government, expressing your outrage that these so-called leaders are taking us back to the dark ages.