Sunday, 5 February 2012

Booze, baccy and the Minister for Public Health

In a week when, with the passage of the Welfare Act through its second reading in the Commons stripping it of the fairly minimal amendments proposed by the Lords, it seemed that the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition couldn't get any more offensive or vicious towards the weak and sick, the ill-titled Public Health Minister, Anne Milton MP, has decided to pile on the agony.

In a bizarre tirade against people living in the north of England, this woman, in whose hands supposedly we are meant to believe the NHS is safe, has blamed the higher than average early death toll in the north to be down to the locals supposed over-indulgence in ciggies, beer and sex. Clearly things that Ms Milton eschews for herself, her view is that if only these promiscuous, fag-and-booze swilling miscreants would mend their bad ways, then the 37,000 premature deaths in the north-east and the 5 year lower life expectancy in the area compared to the prosperous south would vanish.

In her mind, poverty, poor life chances and a disproportionately high reduction in health services to the poorer areas in our country have nothing to do with people's well-being. Dangerously, she also ignores the fact that poorer London Boroughs show similar health outcomes to the north-east. To her, it is all to do with some sort of retarded regional culture. In saying this, she goes against the findings of years of non-political, evidence-based research which shows precisely that poverty equates to bad health. This may in some cases include some bad personal choices - but if you've few chances and even less hope, and zero to negative self-esteem, perhaps the odd extra pint, (shock) one-night stand or even a nice hot pie might let you forget the misery for a few hours.

The answers don't lie in castigating and condemning people who have no way out. They do lie in supporting them and their communities to find some purpose and control over lives and economies which at the moment are in the hands of people like Ms Milton. Yet with her bigoted views of people she has not met, Ms Milton seems unlikely to do the things which, in her well-paid role, she has, along with her Conservative and Lib Dem colleagues, the power to do.

As well as tackling inequality and unemployment, the answer also lies in investing in proactive health services and in ending the scandalous power of the food manufacturing lobby, which the Coalition has permitted regular access to government ministers in order to continue to promote the sale of high-fat, high-salt and high sugar foods. And, of course, in order to make high profits from poor people.
Some people just don't know when to stop...

The Coalition might also take a look at some of the initiatives by the Scottish Government and other governments abroad to tackle the scandalous sale of low price alcohol, including the deliberate pitch to underage children of so-called alcopop drinks (which with their garish colours and labels masquerade as the next "adult" step up from kiddies fizzy drinks). There seems little chance of this, however, as the Government has stacked the alcohol advisory body with representatives of the alcohol companies.

All these remedies lie in the hands of Ms Milton and her Con Dem colleagues, including the Deputy Prime Minister, who, demonstrating the Coalition's concern for self-restraint, claims to have slept with "no more" than thirty women. But we will ourselves expire if we hold our breaths waiting for them to adopt any of the real solutions when they can of course spend their time understanding even less and condemning even more.

For more on health and poverty try the Socialist Health Association link here


  1. I have never seen a more loathsome group of liars than this coalition.
    We need a law passed that MP's can only quote from official figures, and not their flights of fantasy.
    Our Wonderful press would also do well to read some facts and stop parroting the disinformation.