An Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith


An Open Letter to Ian Duncan Smith

by Sue Marsh

Sue Marsh’s successful blog and campaign against current welfare reform plans are well known. In her latest post, Sue presents a brilliantly written open letter to Iain Duncan Smith.You can find Sue’s blog, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger here.

Please read Sue’s article, and share.

“The day you get that diagnosis is the day the blood runs cold in your veins. Everything stops. Sound is muffled in your ears, shock runs through you and you know in that moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

Life, that always seemed so ordered and full of potential becomes precious. A gift greater than any you ever appreciated. A privilege, not a right. Your own mortality comes crashing in around you, redefining love and hope and dreams for the future. Everything will change forever in that one horrifying moment.

If the unthinkable happens to one you love, the sense of impotence and fear is worse. You want it to be you. You’d give anything to change things around, to take away all the pain and suffering. You want to take on every invasive test, every painful procedure. You want it to be you laying there, pail and weak, vomiting endless traces of chemo or morphine into a grey carboard tray.

You want to be there. All the time. Every minute of every day. You want to protect the person you love most in the world, to fight for them, to arrange the very best care available. Suddenly work and meetings and focus groups are forgotten – irrelevant even – when contrasted with the battle for life.

Money won’t save them. It might make things easier, speed up care or assure access to the most innovative treatments, but the battle is yours and yours alone. Together.

You grieve. Grieve for the carefree days, the easy confidence that good health brings. You grieve for the future, so cruelly and randomly threatened. You grieve for the love and support that always came first. You grieve for your children and the spectre that now hangs above their heads every minute of every day. Youngsters become carers and you grieve for the easy innocence they will never know again.

The luckiest of all might be able to leave work that very moment, rush home and gather up family in strong, caring arms. The luckiest will only have to face a battle with the disease now tearing their family apart, with little thought for other practicalities.

Most are not that lucky.

Most will find that just as their world falls apart, they must still pay the mortgage, still feed the children, still keep working hard. They will suffer endless, unimagined agonies as they try to keep all the balls in the air, desperate to fight side by side with their soul mate but unable to do so.

They might lose a wage. Suddenly and without warning their income may half just as they need it most. They may have no choice but to watch in terror as their modest savings drain away, placing fear of poverty side by side with the fear of death.

Is there anything worse? Could there be anything worse than finding your life turned upside down in every area? Job under threat, home at risk, ambitions and dreams destroyed? As your children’s faces become etched with fear, do you tell them Mummy will be OK? Do you keep your financial fears to yourself? Do you take on every burden until the pressure gets too much? Do you try to do the work of 10 men? Superman at work, loving support at the hospital bed, devoted father and capable housekeeper? Can you bear the pressure or do you crack yourself?

There is something worse.

Finding that there is no cure.

Finding that there are no magic chemo bullets to stamp out the darkness, no dazzling operations to cut out the contagion. Treatments are patchy – the doctors tell you if you’re lucky they can “manage” your condition, but from this day, life will be about survival. Forever.

The treatments won’t stop in a month or a year, but they will still make you vomit or send shooting pains through your skull or make you so sensitive to sunlight that you can no longer go outside. No longer take your children to the park or dig sandcastles in the hazy summer sun. They might make you weak, or angry or depressed. They might cause more symptoms than the disease itself, but they keep you alive and “alive” is all those who love you need. Do anything Mummy, but don’t die.”

The boss who’s been so supportive can’t support you forever. 6 months, maybe even a year, but in the end, even the most caring boss will have to draw the line. What do you do? Who will care for your family while you work? Is you child old enough to call an ambulance if she has to? Would she know where the special pills are kept in case Mummy won’t wake up? Can you teach her your work number or do you fret and worry through every day, never knowing what you will return home to?

Things won’t improve. A grey faced doctor might tell you gently that they will only ever get worse. Functions will fail, dignity will crumble, every previously automatic task will need thought and support. There will be wheelchairs or oxygen tanks or feeding tubes. You will have to learn to change incontinence-bags or give injections or rig up sterile feeds. You will have to find money for a hoist or a voice recognition system.

One day, Mummy might not be able to answer. She may not be able to walk or leave her bed. Birthday parties will have to move upstairs to a fetid room that smells of the end, but you will smile brittle smiles and put up bunting, pretending that nothing has changed. You will all laugh a little too shrilly, jump just a little too nervously, but you will pretend. When the kids are safely tucked up and your partner is finally sleeping a tortured morphine sleep, you will cry great heartwrenching sobs into a cushion so nobody hears.

There are legions of us Iain. Probably millions. We fight great battles every day. We find resilience and love we never knew existed. We find pride in the face of indignity, hope in the face of despair. Our relationships are tested every day and every day we have to whisper “but I love them”. Every day, that love has to win. Every day, love is all we have left to get us through.

We pretend the poverty doesn’t matter and when faced with life or death, it’s funny, but it doesn’t seem to matter so much. An afternoon in a park at the beginning of spring, watching the children climb steps to great slide-summits, their joyous eyes flashing in the watery sun is almost too much pleasure to bear. The poignancy of knowing it could always be the last time makes the simplest things precious.

We pretend our ambitions and dreams were not important. Strange, but when your ambition becomes surviving to see your children married, it’s true, they don’t matter so much.

We pretend we’re strong, but we only have the strength we all have, buried deep inside us. We just have to dig deep down to find it. Every day. Forever.

This is why you cannot decide, randomly, that after a year, our families must struggle on alone. A year?? Why Time Limit ESA to a year? Why remove all support from these vulnerable families after one year? Why not 6 months or 3 years or a day? It bears no relationship to the real world, it is policy designed by Dali.

This is why you cannot make us wait 6 months for Disability Living Allowance. Why 6 months? By then we may be bankrupt, we may have lost our homes. We may be dead. The state may end up paying much more through picking up the pieces than in supporting us fairly from day one.

This is why more people must qualify for long term support and go into the Support Group of ESA. Because at the moment, you are failing people with lives like mine. People with Parkinson’s and Arthritis and MS. Mothers and sons, daughters and fathers. People with lupus, schizophrenia, bowel disease, kidney failure, epilepsy, personality disorder, heart disease, COPD and thousands of less well known conditions that destroy lives. Countless things as devastating as cancer and some more so.

This is not “welfare.” Welfare means to fare well. It is the mark of compassion and evolution in a democratic society. It means no-one should be left in absolute desperation. Your policies are causing this total desperation and I’m sure it is not what you want to do or set out to do.

By all means reform. Goodness knows the system does need to change, but the great myth is that it needs bigger sticks to beat us with and stricter reasons to ensure we do not qualify. Please Iain, listen to me today. You have all beat us hard enough for many years. There is nothing more to squeeze or remove or deny. We live in poverty and uncertainly already, and we have reached a tipping point. Labour’s ESA was disastrous enough and already failing. Time limiting, tightening the descriptors yet again and leaving a lengthy qualifying period for DLA is going to cause real hardship and suffering.

Please listen. Please think again.

Sue Marsh

Please do all you can to help me share this today. You can link to it, share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. If you have a Conservative MP, then PLEASE can I ask you to send him this today? You can do it in just a few moments here

Thank you.

Labour’s Finest!


  • By Pam 

An overview of the National Health Service

1. Labour’s FinestThe National Health Service was set up by The Labour Party to provide free quality health care to the British population and is greatly valued.  Aneurin Bevan officially started the National Health Service on July 5 1948.  It was born out of a long-held ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. (History of NHS)

When health secretary Aneurin Bevan opened Park Hospital in Manchester, it was the climax of a hugely ambitious plan to bring good healthcare to all. For the first time hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists were brought together under one umbrella organisation and health provision was free for all at the point of delivery.

The central principles are clear; the health service was to be available to all and financed entirely from taxation, which means that people pay into it according to their means, under national insurance or income tax. These the fairest ways to share to costs of providing for a civilized society……

…..and so it must continue.  

Labour must continue to provide free quality care for all citizens throughout their lives. Labour recognises that the modern world is changing. We must address the challenges, which the NHS faces today, but recognise that the fundamental principles under which the Labour Party was founded should remain and be protected. The NHS is owned by the people, exists for the people, and aims to deliver quality health provision to all of our people regardless of income.

The plans of the current government are without doubt, intended to dismantle the National Health Service and to replace it with a two-tier system.  The coalition government wants the NHS to fail.

Documents obtained by the Guardian (here) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal research by civil servants warning that “markets are susceptible to “failure” and costs could in fact rise unless a true market is created by allowing public services to collapse if they are unsuccessful.”

It opens up the potential for schools, hospitals, social care systems and nurseries to fold without the government stepping in to prop them up.

The Tories want these systems to fail, in order to set up private Health Care Providers from which the profiteers can benefit. Private companies first responsibilities are to their shareholders and the banks rather than to provide the best possible health provision and so the assets paid for by the public will eventually end up in the hands of the very rich.  These mega-rich keep their funds in OFCs (Off-shore financial Centres) or Tax havens and do not fairly contribute into the National Health Service. This is a legalised form of theft.

GPs and consultants have joined with many others in rejecting this. (here) The Liberal Democrats are claiming they have caused the government to make a U Turn on plans. The Guardian  (No U Turn) shows that the privatisation plans are still very much on track and:

“If you had listened carefully while all this was going on, you would have heard Lansley reassuring his backbenchers that the core principles of the bill remained in place and that no red lines had been crossed, and he was quite right. Very little of significance had changed and the bill is still on course to achieve its underlying intention, accelerating the privatisation of the health service, turning the NHS into a kitemark attached to a ragbag of competing and largely private providers.

All the mechanisms to do this are still in place. Private companies can still be involved in commissioning NHS services and these services will still be delivered by any “qualified” provider. Thus the commercial sector can still hold the budget and provide the care. Competition, the aspect of the reforms that most worries doctors, emerges almost intact.”

Furthermore, as health of the nation suffers, this government is hurting even more by cuts to incapacity benefits. The proposed reforms of of the Coalition, where no party has a majority, will remove  the government’s statutory duty to provide universal health care. These policies are based quite simply on right wing ideology, looking to strip assets bought by the public purse and provide a second class service for the vulnerable and needy as they pursue their destructive plans. We can shout at the Tories, but we should not forget that it is the Liberals who seek to keep them there, Liberals who are basking in that little bit of personal glory. Labour must emphasise that the Liberal Democrats share responsibility for damage done to our NHS, and share the blame.

2.   General Practioners Under Labour, GPs should continue to provide free, local surgeries, and confidential consultation for patients. A variety of other services will be located at local Health Centres.

The consultative role of the GP as a first point of contact for patients should be one of trust. The conflict of interest, which would be brought about by GPs managing NHS budgets, is obvious. It is not a career that GPs trained for or wished for. What a waste of the nation’s resources training would-be-doctors to be doctors, and then asking them to be accountants.  This is shameful, and absurd!

3.   Health monitoring Free health monitoring should be extended by a Labour government and should include:

  • Regular dental checks and subsequent necessary treatment
  • Regular eye tests if advised by GP or other professionals. A patient’s contribution to costs of spectacles may still be necessary, but means testing should apply.
  • Breast screening, cervical cancer, bowel cancer screening etc., as advised by GPs
  • Regular, general health checks
  • Free hearing tests, if recommended by GP.
  • Free chiropody as recommended
  • Immunization programmes for children, and adults where necessary
  • Obesity support and dietary advice
  • Contraception advice and sexual health
  • Genetic Counselling
  • Mental and emotional health and support
  • Drug and misuse of substances counselling and support
  • Link with other services, including education, social care and housing

4.   Prescription charges
Prescription charges of one shilling (5p) were introduced and a flat rate of a pound for ordinary dental treatment was brought in on June 1 1952 (1) Prescription charges were abolished in 1965, and prescriptions remained free until June 1968 when the charges were reintroduced.

The cost of prescriptions in some parts of the UK today prevents many from visiting their GP, or from collecting their prescribed drugs. Elsewhere it is free. People living England near the Welsh border can hop over the border, and get their prescriptions free! If ever there was a postcode lottery, this is surely it!

Essential drugs must be provided free, and prescription charges no longer apply. It is unfair that these are free for some citizens and charged by others simply because of where they live.

There should be an end to post-code lotteries. Labour must ensure prescriptions recommended by medical practitioners are free to all citizens in all parts of the UK. Labour should fund NHS drug research in our universities, and stop the haemorrhaging of NHS funds to privatised drug companies which are profiteering at public’s expense.

5.   Maternity Services

The chronic shortage of midwives needs to be reversed, and there should be consultation with the Royal College of Midwives and trade unions as to what measure professionals find necessary.  More midwife led units in the community should be set up and linked with health visitors monitoring children’s health and development.

Adequate staffing of midwives and specialist obstetricians in hospitals needs to be put in place.  UK is in the middle of a baby boom, with nearly 800,000 babies born last year – one birth every 40 seconds – making it the highest birth rate for 20 years. (Midwife shortages)

BBC One’s Panorama has conducted an investigation *(to be televised on Monday 25th July 2011) of every maternity unit in the UK to explore the NHS maternity ‘crisis’ linked to the baby boom and how, along with a massive shortage of midwives and a rise in complex births, maternity units are struggling to cope with  ‘relentless’ pressure.

6.   Staffing Adequate staffing of medical professionals and necessary support staff should be a priority of a Labour government, and consultation will be made with nurses, doctors, midwives, speech therapists, physiotherapists, radiographers, psychiatrists and all specialist staff. Training of medical staff needs to be high quality and costs funded by the state for those working in public sector for at least five years. There should be a detailed review of Pay and Conditions. Many highly qualified medical practitioners are being lost because of inadequate staffing, poor working conditions and low pay.

 7. Listening and Monitoring

Opportunities and procedures for evaluation of the NHS from both staff and patients need to be developed. There should be a consultation with all the different professionals involved. Staff morale needs to be boosted.  Users of the service need to feel they are given the very best care possible. Patients’ experiences will be listened to, and invited. Patients are individuals and should feel cared for and their serious suggestions for improvements for their care valued.  There should be a comprehensive review of procedures, systems and working practices throughout the NHS involving staff and patients.

Sue Marsh from her blog  (Diary of a Benefit Scrounger), writes:

“How about patients? How often do you watch Newsnight or SkyNews or the Daily Politics and see a debate over healthcare taking place between two or three patients? Politicians never ask us either. Some hospitals however, make great attempts to involve patients on their boards, or in planning staff training. Many have done endless studies into mental health care or chronic care or elderly care and their expertise and best practices can – and must – be rolled out across every hospital.”

8.   Health Education

The Health Service should maintain a presence in State Schools and ensure children receive health education, including diet, hygiene, sexual health and emotional mental health. The Health Education Service should be redeveloped and there should be a presence in local surgeries.

9.   Science and Research

The NHS should continue to be a major player in clinical science, and in drug development. This will be developed further. The cost to the Service paying for new drugs developed by private pharmaceutical companies could be reduced if NHS scientists are employed and link with universities.

The Independent reports (here):

“A detailed study by Dr Marcia Angell, the former editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, says that only 14 per cent of their budgets go on developing drugs – usually at the uncreative final part of the drug-trail. The rest goes on marketing and profits. And even with that puny 14 per cent, drug companies squander a fortune developing “me-too” drugs – medicines that do exactly the same job as a drug that already exists, but has one molecule different, so they can take out a new patent, and receive another avalanche of profits.”

10.   Mental Health

Labour must acknowledge that the provision for mental health has been underfunded for many years and requires ring-fenced investment to raise it a suitable level.  There should be access to a range of talking therapies.  Cognitive behaviour therapy is very effective for some but not all users.  Student doctors require greater training in all aspects of mental health.   The economic implications of depression and anxiety disorders alone justify the additional funding.

The Coalition government’s polices are cutting hard and yet reports of closure of mental health hospitals and psychiatric services are  hitting the news with increasingly frequency.

There are cuts to mental health across the nation including Northern Ireland (here),  Brentford (here) and Camden (here)

Where 95 mental health beds, resulting in the loss of the Grove Centre and Queen Mary’s House, are closing imminently. This will save nearly £5m.A hasty “discussion” is currently being held about the future of St Luke’s Hospital, which has been in use for mental health treatment since 1930. This historic site, which the trust owns, and which is a green and pleasant environment for users of mental health services, is to be flogged off to the highest bidder as soon as possible”.


11.   Living Conditions and Public Health

Thedeteriorating effects of external factors on public health, for example lack of affordable housing and on the cost of keeping warm, of the cutting of health education have direct effect on the NHS, and this is something, which the government are aware of.  The Coalition government’s nudge policy was criticised by  (Grahame Morris MP).

“The savings resulting from existing Public Health measures are likely to be reversed under the current government’s cuts’ programme, and will load extra costs across many facets of people’s lives. For example, there is solid evidence that good housing leads to good health, to better education and to well being. The consequences of cold homes are estimated to cost £2 billion per year. Yet this is the first time since 1945, that there has not been a policy on fuel poverty.  50% cuts to social housing budgets, will also lead to increased levels of fuel poverty. 

Other public health consequences resulting from the election of the Tory-led government include such diverse concerns as the fact that the school meal standard will not apply to the new Academies; the rising unemployment figures will be associated with rising mental heath issues, stopping or inadequate food labeling will prevent people making healthier dietary choices, and it is clear that there will be ‘knock-on’ effects from the cuts to the health service budget, to welfare, to Sure Start, to housing and to the benefit system.   Public health measures are very significant across the board, and the cuts will evidence their importance both in costs and quality of life.”

These cuts will not save money, and will have profound effects on the nation’s health and such demands on the NHS, which the government hopes will mean that the service will ultimately fail.

Privatisation and commercialisation of the NHS must be avoided. Any assets stripped by the coalition government should be brought back into our National Health Service by a re-elected Labour government. Furthermore, there needs to be a National Care Service set up to provide for the elderly and vulnerable.Labour must protect, care for and ensure good health of every citizen. That is Labour’s duty, and those are our citizen’s rights.

Without Health there can be no Wealth,

Without Learning there can be no Earning

Without Sharing there can be no Caring


Without Labour looking and leading leftwards, we are lost!

The NHS has been Labour’s finest to date. But with socialist policies, I believe Labour’s finest is yet to come.  Let’s move forward.

References and Further Reading

1. History of the NHS
2. NHS U Turn A Fake:
3. Fuel poverty
4. Health and Housing  Research site
5.  Grahame Morris MP, on Public Health  in June 2011-07-17 A report by Pam Field, and Dr Sue Davies 
6. Sue Marsh’s Blog on NHS, including  Patients’ influence on NHS decisions
7. Drug companies
8. Midwife shortage,
10 BBC Mental Health Cuts , Northern Ireland
11 Camden and Islington Cuts
12 .Brentford Cuts, Mental health
13 Report from Guardian, Ministers urged to let hospitals fail
14. Providing a quality standard of living for a civilized nation
15 Doctors reject coalition’s health care plans