Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Some Thoughts...Evidence and Politics

So. This election campaign has been pretty bruising, with lots of voices, and claim and counterclaim on all sides.  So I thought I'd go out and try to look for some evidence.  Radical, I know.

Let's start with National Finances.  The 2010/15 Con-Lib Government have consistently claimed that their austerity strategy was the only solution to the huge debts the country has.   However, there are is growing evidence that the cuts in the first part of their time in power actually slowed growth dramatically.  They quietly stopped cutting in the middle, and the economy began to slowly improve.

The evidence is that austerity made the depression/recession much worse than it needed to be.  Klugman is particularly good on this topic, and further makes the strong case that running a deficit budget in tough times makes sense.  It is orthodox macroeconomics, and the position of many other developed countries.  He also notes en passim that using domestic family budgets as an analogy for how a countries finances should be run is not valid.

Finally, the evidence base for the austerity experiment the last Government embarked on was based on (i) Poor statistics, (ii) A misunderstanding of historical economic positions and causality, and (iii) An infamous spreadsheet error,

So it doesn't look as though the last Government - judged solely from a financial management perspective, and ignoring for the moment the morality of how they applied their cuts - were particularly competent in their management of the economy.  Oh, and they massively missed their own targets.

Now on to Health.  And to begin with, public health.  This does appear from the evidence to have been fundamentally mishandled by the coalition.  The recent study in the BMJ of the impact of (i) failing to set salt reduction targets and (ii) bringing in the industry to voluntary self regulate, has had a major, deleterious impact.

They estimate around 6000 unnecessary deaths over the last five years, caused by those policies alone.

What about the claims that the health care systems in the devolved countries are substantially worse than those in England?  a major and comprehensive 2014 report by the Nuffield Foundation found that:-
Within the limitations of the performance information available across the four countries over time before and after devolution, it does not appear that the increasing divergence of policies since devolution has been associated with a matching divergence of performance.
Onto the Health and Social Care Act.  Well, it does now seem that no-one will really defend it, but for the record, the King's Fund report on the impact of the act is clear:-
The new report highlights some positive developments as a result of the Act including closer involvement of GPs in commissioning services, giving local authorities responsibility for public health and the establishment of health and wellbeing boards. However, it criticises the decision to implement complex organisational changes at a time when the NHS should have been focused on tackling growing pressures on services and an unprecedented funding squeeze.  
Other key findings from the assessment of the Act are that:
  • an unwieldy structure has emerged with leadership fractured between several national bodies, a bewilderingly complex regulatory system and a strategic vacuum in place of the system leadership that was previously provided by strategic health authorities
  • while claims of widespread privatisation are exaggerated with less than 10 per cent of the NHS budget spent on non-NHS providers, the emphasis on competition has resulted in greater complexity and uncertainty about when contracts should be put out to tender
  • despite the intention to devolve decision-making and reduce political interference, the period since the Act was implemented has been characterised by regular ministerial intervention and a continued focus on targets
  • responsibility for commissioning has been fragmented between different bodies and NHS England has been slow to establish itself, weighed down by its wide-ranging responsibilities
Again, hardly competent.  Since that report, evidence also seems to have emerged that the rate of privatisation has increased dramatically since the Act.

Sigh.  Tuition Fees.  Only one point to make here really, while only a small overall drop of students has been recorded as a result of the introduction of the £9000 fees, as the New Statesman and many others have pointed out, it has nevertheless failed on its own terms:-
... the tuition fees policy is perilously close to failing. It was sold partly as a necessary cost-saving measure in an age of austerity, but it could turn out to be more expensive than the previous system. The original funding model forecast that 28 per cent of student loans would never be paid back. The latest estimates are that 45 per cent of loans will not be, because graduates have found it harder to get well-paid employment than envisaged. If that figure reaches 47 per cent, the government will lose more money under the new system than the previous one.
I could go on.  Looked at from a basis of evidence,

  • The immigration policy (which I personally disagreed with) has failed to deliver.
  • Free school results are no better, and in many cases significantly lower than those in other state-funded schools.  But they have cost huge amounts of our tax money to establish.
  • The Green policies that were abandoned just as they were beginning to work
  • The failure to establish a clear distance between the Murdoch and the Government when considering whether to refer the BSkyB bid to the Monopolies commission
  • The failure to implement Levenson
  • A Strategic Defence Review, leading to major cuts, which has resulted in significant force overstretch.

I could go on - and maybe I will later.  Food banks. Child Poverty. Bedroom Tax, etc.  Cuts that affect the poorest and the most vulnerable while protecting the rich.

But - based on the evidence, the last Government failed in so many ways - on the Nation's Finances (against their own measures!), on Healthcare, and in so many other areas, that it is no wonder they aren't campaigning very hard on their own record.

What I do wonder is why the Opposition parties aren't challenging them more on the general mess they have made of things?