The hidden child-killer is unmasked

It is…

Poverty.

From this weeks’ Observer:

An ‘epidemic of poverty’ in Britain is having a dramatic impact on the survival rates and health chances of children from poor families, an influential coalition will warn this week in a major report that casts doubt on government efforts to close the inequality gap.

End Child Poverty, a 130-strong network of children’s charities, church groups, unions and think-tanks, claims that the gap between rich and poor represents a ‘huge injustice’ in British society and has become one of the major factors affecting child mortality rates.

Its report, based on a wide-ranging analysis of government data, finds that children from poor families are at 10 times the risk of sudden infant death as children from better-off homes. And it reveals how babies from disadvantaged families are more likely to be born underweight – an average of 200 grams less than children from the richest families. Poorer children are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer chronic illness when toddlers and twice as likely to have cerebral palsy, according to the report, ‘Health Consequences of Poverty for Children’.

‘Poverty is now one of the greatest dangers faced by our children,’ said Nick Spencer, one of the report’s authors and professor of child health at the University of Warwick. ‘If poverty were an infection, we would be in the midst of a full-scale epidemic.’

The report is likely to revive the debate on child poverty and focus attention on Labour’s record when it comes to tackling social inequalities. In March 1999, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised to eradicate child poverty ‘within a generation’. This was later defined as a commitment to end child poverty by 2020, with a target of halving the number of children living in poverty by 2010/11.

But last week the Conservatives attacked the government on its record for narrowing the gap between rich and poor. ‘Labour has failed, it has created a more unfair society and I think there is a real opportunity for the Conservative party now to lead this debate,’ the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, said.

But while the current row over social inequality has tended to focus on education and benefits, the implications for health have been largely ignored. Now, however, the End Child Poverty report highlights how socio-economic factors affect the entire life of children born into poverty, from foetal development and early infancy through to teenage years and adulthood.

It found that children living in disadvantaged families are more than three times as likely to suffer from mental health disorders as those in well-off families and that infants under three years old in families with an annual income of less than £10,400 are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as those from families earning over £52,000.

The report also suggests the health consequences of being born into poverty continue well beyond infancy. For example, adults who came from deprived families were found to be 50 per cent more likely to have serious and limiting illnesses, such as type two diabetes and heart failure.

‘From the day they are born, children’s health and very survival are threatened by family poverty,’ said Donald Hirsch, co-author of the report and policy adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

‘It is one of society’s greatest inequalities that poor health is so dramatically linked to poverty. Children in the poorest UK families are at least twice as likely to die unexpectedly before their first birthdays than children in slightly better-off families. This is a huge injustice for the children in one of the richest nations in the world.’

The government claims it is closing the gap between rich and poor, but accepts that more needs to be done. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said in June: ‘Although we have already lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty with new tax credits, more people in work and better public services, the latest figures show we have not made enough progress.’

He added: ‘We will not deny or explain away the figures. We will take them as a spur to action, a call to conscience.’

The government recently announced the introduction of 10 pilot projects to tackle ill health among people from poor backgrounds, including rewarding parents for making sure their children attend health check-ups and receive inoculations.

But Hilary Fisher, director of the Campaign to End Child Poverty, said the new report showed that there was an urgent need for more robust measures to address the health consequences of economic deprivation. ‘This evidence has profound implications for public policy,’ Fisher said. ‘The facts prove that effective action to end child poverty would make a vital long-term contribution to improving the health of our nation and prevent avoidable incidences of physical and mental ill health.

‘The government made a bold promise to halve child poverty by 2010 and this now requires bold action.’

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Private equity pirates seize NHS firm

From the Morning Star:

Private equity snaps up NHS-funded firm

HEALTH-CARE charities and unions warned on Monday that care services are increasingly falling into the hands of profiteers thanks to the government’s insistence on outsourcing health to the private sector.

Private equity firm GI Partners revealed on Monday that it has snapped up Care Aspirations, which is funded by the NHS to provide care for people with severe learning disabilities and conditions such as epilepsy, autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The NHS sends such patients to the company’s 11 private hospitals and care homes, guaranteeing it a regular income from public funds and making it a prime target for asset-stripping equity firms like the US-financed GI Partners.

Care Aspirations said that, thanks to NHS subsidies, its value had doubled in two years and it was now worth an estimated £70 million.

GI Partners, which is already worth about £2 billion, proudly declared that its intention was to “target such businesses with predictable, recurring cash flows, with a value that could be monetised to return capital to shareholders.”

A spokesman for the Adolescent and Children’s Trust said that “this means it is more interested in maximising profits and operating for short-term gain than providing long term care for the most vulnerable.”

And NHS union UNISON slammed the government’s outsourcing of health services to private companies as “exposing public services to the dangers of global markets.

“More than £80 billion of taxpayer’s money now goes to the private sector and to the private equity firms who increasingly own our public services. The government shouldn’t turn its back on the NHS,” the union said.

Brown gets warning from big business

It would not have been hard for Brown to win popular support amongst traditional Labour supporters, those struggling on low incomes, and those on middle incomes feeling the pinch.

He could have cut taxes on working people by ending the costly wars in the Middle East, scrapping Trident, ID cards, and ending the expensive privatisation policies.

He could have kept his promise on the EU referendum and held that General Election.

Now he’s stuck with trying to ride the wave of Olympic success.

God knows, he hasn’t the bollocks to change course, yet big business is worried he might make some surface alterations they’ll have to pay for – the modest suggestion that corporations should contribute to the meeting the costs of the 2012 London Olymics was met with alarm.

It is interesting to note that whatever you do for the ruling class, they are never pleased. There’s never enough, as the FT reveals:

Business has launched a pre-emptive strike against the “unacceptably high” level of corporate taxation, in an attempt to persuade prime minister Gordon Brown not to make companies pay the bill for his autumn relaunch.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors, criticised Mr Brown’s first months in Downing Street and urged him not to inflict further damage on the UK’s competitiveness in a move to recover political popularity.

“The government, in the last five years particularly, has not really embraced the business agenda thoroughly enough,” said Mr Templeman. “The Brown premiership has carried on that trend. And then you’ve got all the economic pressures and some of the tax cock-ups as well.”

Mr Templeman dismissed the multimillion-pound relaunch package Mr Brown is expected to unveil next month, offering help with fuel bills and stamp duty, as largely irrelevant to business.

“In reality, there is very little room to move fiscally,” he said. “I hope we don’t get into a year of small-scale electioneering, rather than addressing the bigger picture of how we’re going to compete for the next 10 years.”

The IoD and other employer organisations fear Mr Brown will be tempted to use business as a “fall guy” if economic pressures force him to raise more taxes.

Business groups are aware their call for a moratorium on tax increases may appear as special pleading. “We’re now at a level of tax to GDP that is in danger of inhibiting growth,” Mr Templeman warned. “The tax burden, in terms of level and administrative cost, is at an unacceptably high rate.”

The CBI has chosen tax as the theme of fringe meetings it is sponsoring at next month’s party conferences.