Low share prices when the UK government privatised Royal Mail cost the taxpayer around £1 billion, a parliamentary committee has reported. Meanwhile the National Health Service and social services are in financial crisis.
“It’s not at all clear that the Government’s sale of Royal Mail has brought an adequate and appropriate return for taxpayers,” said Adrian Bailey MP, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee. The “low issue price of this prime public asset has cost the taxpayer around a billion pounds.”
The Committee also warned that assets, including three sites in London, had also been sold off too cheaply. These were valued at £200 million but estimated by the National Audit Office to have a “hidden value” worth £330 million to £830 million.
There was concern too, about “preferred investors” who received many shares before these were more widely marketed, some of whom were also advisers on the sell-off. “While we have no evidence of inappropriate behaviour by those companies employed by the Government, it is clear to us that any perception of financial advantage must be removed from the privatisation process”, the Committee wrote.
Meanwhile, the NHS is struggling to cope, amidst the disruption caused by reforms aimed partly at opening up market opportunities for private healthcare firms. Cuts are already harming many vulnerable patients. In a survey of 78 senior health and social care leaders by the Nuffield Trust, almost half thought it unlikely that, in a decade’s time, the NHS would still be able to provide a comprehensive service mainly free at the point of use.
“Demand for NHS services shows no signs of abating. With hospital finances increasingly weak, growing pressures on staffing, and the goal of moving care out of hospitals and into the community proving elusive, the NHS is heading for a funding crisis this year or next”, the Trust found.
Some services are already turning away sometimes desperately ill patients. Mental health needs have risen, in part due to austerity measures and ‘welfare’ benefit cuts, while trusts have faced funding cuts. “It's a car crash," declared Professor Sue Bailey, outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in June 2014.
Adult social care has long been overstretched, meaning that many frail older and other disabled people have not been given adequate support, for instance, to go to the toilet. This has become drastically worse as austerity policies have taken a grip.
David Pearson, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, revealed that in England: “Since 2010 spending on social care has fallen by 12 per cent at a time when the number of those looking for support has increased by 14 per cent. This has forced departments to make savings of 26 per cent in their budgets – the equivalent of £3.53 billion over the last four years.”
Cuts in public services and social security are mainly about ideology rather than saving money. Inequality is already stark in the UK where, according to the Equality Trust, the richest 100 people have a combined wealth equal to that of the poorest 19 million.
If politicians committed to austerity have their way, the gap will widen further, whatever the human cost. This should be a matter of grave concern to people of all faiths and none who care about justice and compassion.
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