Is Scottish independence the solution to healthcare challenges?

Scottish independence

IN 2011, THE SCOTTISH National Party  (SNP) won a historic majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament, leading to the independence referendum vote in September 2014.

The SNP claim that the Scottish economy is in a stronger position than the UK economy, for example, in 2010, Gross National Income per head in Scotland was estimated to be higher than the UK as a whole.

Since 1999, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have overseen healthcare and the NHS. This has seen progressive policies such as free personal care and free prescriptions being introduced. In contrast, the English healthcare system has seen almost constant re-organisation and increased private sector involvement leading to funding shortfalls.

There remain huge challenges facing Scottish healthcare, including substantial health inequalities meaning that children born in the poorest parts of Scotland can expect to live 11 years less than those in the wealthier areas. In addition cancer mortality rates are 76 per cent higher in deprived areas.

Scottish parliamentWhile healthcare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government in London is planning to cut Scottish welfare spending by around £6 billion by 2016. The Child Poverty Action Group estimates that child poverty will increase to 100,000 by 2020 due to these cuts. This increase in poverty will lead to widening health inequalities and more ill health, placing more pressure on the NHS in Scotland.

The Coalition Government has introduced a number of measures which have reduced the living standards of some of the poorest in  society. The ‘bedroom tax’ penalizes households who are deemed to have one or more bedrooms more than they ‘need’ by  reducing their housing benefit by 25 per cent. This has had a massively disproportionate impact on people with disabilities and  their families.

The Coalition Government also announced that they wish to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for 16 to 64 year olds and  introduce a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with far higher criteria, meaning that many people with disabilities will end  up losing this essential benefit. The introduction of PIP has been shambolic, with the last figure from the Department for Work and  Pensions (DWP) showing that 220,000 people had made PIP claims, but less than a fifth had been processed.

There is little wonder then that there has been a huge increase in the number of food banks. The Trussell Trust recently announced   that 71,428 Scots had used its food banks over the last year, compared to 14,318 in 2012/13. Independence will allow Scotland to   abolish the bedroom tax and hold on to Disability Living Allowance.

In terms of employment, the Coalition Government introduced the Work Programme in June 2011. Under the scheme, the task of helping the long-term unemployed has been outsourced primarily to private sector organisations. The results have been very poor, with job outcome figures much lower than the Government’s Minimum Performance Level.

Westminster There have also been large increases in the numbers of people who are unemployed being sanctioned, thus taking them out of the  unemployment statistics. Clearly, removing payments to benefit claimants will worsen an already poor situation, leading to  increased reliance on food banks and high-interest loan firms. Indeed, it may exacerbate mental health issues, making it more  difficult to find work.

Only through independence will the Scottish Government control the economic leavers that can develop the economy and create  much needed sustainable employment opportunities. Without such, there is little opportunity to significantly tackle poverty and  inequality.

The challenge facing healthcare in Scotland is a significant one. Successive Westminster governments have failed to substantially  reduce health inequalities in Scotland. There have been decades of underinvestment in the housing stock leaving hundreds of  thousands of households in fuel poverty.

Independence gives Scotland a better opportunity to use its economic resources to invest in its housing stock, sports facilities, community health programmes, and health education, creating thousands of much needed jobs and improving living standards and health.

Declining access to healthcare provisions: My Opinion 

My main concern about a no vote is that I received Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This comprises of a care component and a motability component. I use my motability component to lease a car through the motability scheme. I use my care component to meet the extra costs of having a disability. Indeed, it is estimated that people with disabilities have at least 25% extra living costs.

The Government in London in reassessing everyone aged 16-64 who receives DLA for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with far higher criteria. Based onDepartment for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, it is estimated that 46,000 Scots with disabilities will lose their entitlement to get a car through the motability scheme.

Stephen McMurray is a member of the Radical Independence Campaign

Picture credits: Pro-independence rally by Mártainn MacDhómhnaill, Holyrood by Wojtek Gurak and Westminster by Justin.

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