John Ashton: Not Enough!
I suspect that many people would have welcomed the Guardian’s (July 1st 2014) front page coverage of John Ashton’s comments about health services and major challenges confronting British society.
The paper’s readers are assured that we have a bona fide expert here. Referred to as a ‘senior doctor’ his CV is cited which includes professorships, a CBE for outstanding services to the NHS, a long involvement in progressive public health and now the President of the UK Public Health Faculty (a professional organisation).
I have heard John speak on many occasions. He is eloquent, passionate, and well informed. His oft made plea that we should look upstream when examining any social problem/issue always seemed to me to be very important. Not the least as John would point out it’s pretty futile to keep ‘rescuing people/bodies’ from the river when we need to be looking at just how they got swept into the river in the first place.
It is precisely on this point that John’s comments and observations are so disappointing. He fails to heed his own advice. If he has moved up river from those whose job is rescue then he has moved just a few steps. Not far enough by a long shot.
Inequalities he tells us is one of the biggest challenges facing British society today. I am not sure if the poor of Britain would agree with him and I am very sure that the 80% of the globe’s population who have to get by on less than $10 a day would not. Their problem, they will tell you again and again, is that they live in a global system which is inhumane and unjust. This is a crucial starting point. Just why they ask, are so many suffering when the world as a whole has the clear and proven capacity to provide the means of decency for every single person? What is happening to humanity which stands back and sees so many treated so cruelly. They see and experience every day a system that fails utterly the vast majority of people and which is now imperilling the very environment in which we live. Inequalities they would tell John, are but one symptom of a system that patently does not work for most of us.
‘System’ is the word often used by the poor to describe what they are up against. Capitalism is its heart but not its only part. For the weakest and most vulnerable their most immediate threats come from the state, its police, its prisons, its armies, its surveillance and its supporting agencies such as schools and social services. All operate within similar paradigms of seeing the poor as garbage, waste, not worth listening to, and so accorded no respect.
Stand in these shoes. What do you see? Humanity in action; sharing and trust; mutualities and solidarities ? These you will see and experience everyday because this is how you get by. But from the system? Never.
And do we really need another swathe of research and commission reports to tell us what is a common truth that the system in Britain is screwed just as it is in much of the world. It fails again and again and now in this brutal phase of pulling back state support in order to let profit reign it is a system with few if any redeeming features.
So in conclusion I would urge John to be more bold and travel upstream but this time in the company of those who are rarely heard but have much to tell.