Philippa Whitford: “Radical and dramatic” change required in indy scot to fight poverty and improve health


SNP’s Westminster NHS spokesperson says austerity and Brexit endangers future of the Scottish health

THE SNP’s Westminster NHS spokesperson has said that “radical and dramatic” social reforms will be necessary to repair Scotland’s health after a week that has seen threats to the NHS from Brexit and austerity.

Speaking to CommonSpace after recent weeks which have seen Brexit begin and a renewed standoff between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament over Scotland’s right to hold a referendum on independence, Whitford said changed circumstances underlined the necessity of independence to repair Scotland’s national health.

She said: “Poverty and weaknesses in our economy are because decisions are made for the city of London. They are not made with Scotland in mind at all. To me, I think if we are going to turn around health in Scotland, we have to be able to be much more radical and dramatic. We need to have a much more equal society, when we look north to our colleagues in Scandinavia.”

“Poverty and weaknesses in our economy are because decisions are made for the city of London. They are not made with Scotland in mind at all.” Philippa Whitford

Whitford made the comments after a week that has seen what disability rights campaigners have described as “catastrophic” cuts to disability benefits and benefits affecting parents. Whitford believes that the crisis in the NHS is only one factor impacting public health and that recent events show Scotland needs control over it’s economy to deal with its social and economic problems.

She said: “Those hardest hit are likely to be single women pensioners and single parents. This idea that things are solid and dependable if it comes from London, just isn’t true, and for me we need to be able to tackle poverty whether its child poverty or pensioner poverty. But we don’t control the economy.

“At the minute they are saying ‘look Scotland’s [economy is] rubbish’. But that’s the half of the circle we don’t control.

“We control the public services, but if we invest in business, if we get people into employment, we don’t benefit from that. The returns from that in terms of taxes and improved public finance go back down the road to Westminster. We need a virtuous circle.”

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“We won’t be able to have that shackled to Westminster.”

Scotland suffers poorer health than the UK average, something experts attribute in large part to the unequal economic decline experienced by Scotland during de-industrialisation. Whitford believes comprehensive economic and social powers, and not merely control over the NHS, already devolved to Scotland, would be necessary to tackle these problems.

The UK Government’s budget on 8 March outlined plans for an extra £2bn of funding for social care in a bid to relieve the crisis ridden NHS England, a move welcomed by Whitford who nonetheless said the money was “nowhere near” undoing the damage done by underfunding.

The budget covered a fresh tranche of austerity measures and predicted low growth in coming years, at a time when public services, particularly the NHS, are already struggling to cope after over six years of austerity.

At the announcement of the budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond acknowledged that the NHS in England was “under pressure” but said: “This government backs the NHS’s plan. We are funding it with a £10bn increase by 2020.

“We are the party of the NHS.”

Whitford also mentioned the Westminster Brexit committee’s discussion, also in March, of a possible ‘no deal’ scenario, which exposed the lack of UK Government planning for the eventuality. She said that that leaving the EU single market to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules would be an “unmitigated catastrophe” for the NHS, and would include unfavourable trade deals with the US, opening up an NHS to further privatisation – which Whitford said was causing many of its problems.

Any deal which might involve the removal of EU migrants would also negatively impact the NHS, she said, due to its heavy reliance on migrant doctors and nurses

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“There’s a huge reliance on immigrants in the NHS and an even bigger reliance in social care in immigrants from the ascension countries.”

However, she argued that even under circumstances where Prime Minister Theresa May would guarantee residency status for EU nationals, the problem would be moved “further down the line in terms of turn-over of staff and recruitment”.

CommonSpace repeatedly contacted the UK Government to respond to Whitford’s comments, but they did not respond.

Picture courtesy of Ted Eytan

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