For this blog I managed to have a catch up with Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West to discuss public services and Labour’s Green New Deal.
CW: Public services are all really struggling to provide the services they want with the level of government funding cuts and we’re wondering what your thoughts are in terms of what a labour government, if elected, would be able to do in response to that?
SH: We are massively worried about the effect of years of austerity on public service workers and on all the services that those people are working in. One of the things that we would do straight away is we’ve committed to ensure that we pay public sector workers properly and there are no more pay freezes and no more pay caps. We know we can’t just reverse the terrible cuts that they’ve endured. Labour is committed to paying people a Living Wage. Straight away we would bring in a proper national living wage and that would be £10 an hour from day one of a labour government. This is in line with UNISON’s One Wage, Any Age campaign, meaning that if you are 16, 17, 18 years old and so on you will be paid the same for doing the same work.
CW: Lots of our members are confused by ‘the end of austerity’. What in reality is going on with the current government and what would Labour do differently?
The government has promised to end austerity but it is just lip service because we are all still living under it and it was a political choice that never needed to be this way. The Conservative Government chose to make the poorest people in the country and our public services pay the price of an economic crisis and to prioritise tax cuts for millionaires. Labour will do the reverse and ensure that those with the broader shoulders pay a little bit more so that our public services are run to support everyone who uses them, such as our hospitals, our schools and the police. We would begin the work of fixing them and reversing those cuts.
CW: Lots of people are concerned about health and social care and what this means for them, especially as we get older. What could be done to improve health and social care?
SH: One of the things we would do straight away is put 5000 more GPs in training and that would, in time, when they are all qualified, release millions of extra GP appointments. We would also bring in a national care service and have free personal care for everyone. This would reduce the worry that older people have now about how they are going to pay for their social care. We would make sure the national health service was fixed, we would reverse and stop the privatisation of the national health service. Lots of UNISON members work within the health service and they’ve seen first-hand the privatisation that’s been going on stealthily and the government keeps saying that it’s not true. When it comes to public health we would make sure it is funded properly. It’s been devolved to local government now where lots of your members work, also that work is in the preventative side such as sexual health clinics, drug and alcohol services, smoke cessation and teams working to reduce the numbers of teenage pregnancies. That work just doesn’t happen, because the budgets are being cut.
We would make sure local government was funded properly, public health was funded properly and then pick up on that preventative work because what we see is the health inequalities between the most deprived areas and the more affluent areas. We’ve got life expectancy reversing and stalling for the first time ever and it’s just not acceptable. The icing on the cake, that I haven’t mentioned yet, is free prescriptions. We’ve committed to taking away the unfair charge on illness that exists in this country with people paying for their prescriptions, not all of whom can actually afford to pay, so we said a labour government would bring in free prescriptions.
CW: I think for UNISON members and more widely people will be very pleased to hear those commitments. I think the commitment from labour for free prescriptions is really important because people can’t afford to get the medication they need to stay well. I think from our younger members’ perspective they are saying why, just because of our age, are we paid less than other people so I think all of those commitments from labour are really important for all of our members.
The final question is the labour party has committed to a green new deal. We all recognise that there’s a climate change emergency, it’s a really important issue for UNISON and UNISON members but we are working with hospitals to look at a climate emergency for the NHS. With your public health remit, is that something that you would want to work with us on and support?
SH: Absolutely it is! Especially with regard to air pollution, which is one of the major problems that we’re finding across the country, and the effect it has not just on children, but older people and pregnant women – we really need to tackle all of these issues. Jonathan Ashworth announced at labour conference that we are going to have the greenest health service in the world. We will look at procurement and the use of plastics and look at how the NHS works. There is a commitment to planting a tree for every NHS worker, there’s over 1.2 million NHS workers and there’ll be tree planted for every one of them. Hopefully those trees, in time, will help improve the air quality which is something that we need.
We have made a whole raft of announcements around electric vehicles. We would offer grants for more charging points and I’m pushing for a scrappage scheme, to make the switch over to electric easier, which I haven’t quite succeeded in getting in the manifesto yet. It worked the last time (the scrappage scheme) under the labour government when we had the recession. With Nissan being in my patch it really made a difference to Nissan surviving the last recession
CW: I just like to say it’s been a real pleasure to catch up with you today Sharon and I look forward to doing more work with you.
SH: Thank you for having me.