From Socialist Review, September 1961.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg, with thanks to Ian Birchall.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
WHEN considering the evils of 19th century industrialism, such as women and young children working in coalmines, we tend to slide into complacency. We say, “Of course, this sort of outrageous thing couldn’t occur in our enlightened age.”
But we would do well to remember that what to-day is unanimously thought to be wrong was then considered perfectly proper. For example, in North Staffordshire, where I live, workers opposed the ending of child-labour because it would lessen family incomes. To them, children working in the pits was regarded as quite natural and inevitable.
Now I contend that many of the things, unquestionably accepted by this age of unrivalled smugness, will be considered scandalous and barbaric a 100 years hence – that is if Mankind is still alive. Our successors will, I think, cite examples like these to show that a society which could spend millions on armaments and advertising could not meet the most elementary human needs:
Cancer patient 8517. Poor widow (67) with three motherless grandchildren to care for. Nourishing foods particularly needed. Can you help please? Old jewellery, etc., gladly utilised ...
Cancer patient 0657. Spinster (37) outlook grim, with elderly Father to look after, needs warmth and extra nourishing foods ...
Cancer patient 60953. Poor man (68) with wife also suffering from cancer. These unfortunate OAPs are bravely facing their tragic circumstances but find it very difficult to provide the nourishing diet they so badly need ...
These appeals, and many others, have appeared in the British Press recently, issued, by the National Society for Cancer Relief. But such voluntary societies, however well meaning their efforts can only help, a lucky few among the misfortunate many; they cannot hope to satisfy the need, which can only be fully, met by a reallocation of the community’s resources.
To make adequate provision for the sick, to attend to their needs for, food and shelter, are basic duties of any state, and not beyond the powers of Britain today. Other countries, such as Sweden and Denmark, have much better records.
The fundamental reason for Britain’s failure, as Professor Titmuss has pointed out, is because the crucial decisions on how the national resources should be apportioned are taken by small groups of businessmen. They are influenced by financial considerations and thoughts of personal prestige; the welfare of the people is not within their frame of reference.
And, far from trying to counteract this tendency, the Government accentuates it. Nobody can accuse the Exchequer of being prompted by thoughts of the greatest good for the greatest number when it allocates a mere £650,000 a year to research into cancer, one of the two great killer diseases, which results in the death of 250 people each day in England alone. This compares with £240 million – 360 times as much – spent by the Government on military research.
In the House of Commons recently Mr. Denzil Freeth, Parliamentary Secretary for Science, defending the meagre sum spent on cancer research, claimed it was not lack of funds or scientists, but lack of new ideas, and promising leads that was hindering progress.
This appears a lame excuse: lack of new ideas and promising leads has never curtailed expenditure on military research. Think of the frenzied activity, the desperate, concerted efforts that went into tackling the obstacles to manufacturing nuclear weapons. If the same effort could be put into the discovery of new means of preserving life that is put into devising new methods of destroying it, then dreaded illnesses like cancer would quickly lose their sting.
But, in any case, Mr. Freeth overlooks the important point that, where cures for some types of cancers have been found, the treatment is often administered under conditions that are not conducive to success. For full benefit from medical attention cannot be derived if a patient is inadequately fed or, like a friend of mine, recovering from cancer of the bladder, cannot have the proper period of convalescence because of sheer economic necessity.
Such examples, by no means uncommon, show the Welfare State has far too low a standard of welfare. If Britain is to be judged by what is done for the least fortunate section of the. Community – the sick, aged and infirm – it will be judged and found wanting.
Last updated: 16.7.2011