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Transforming your care: Stormont preys on the elderly

8 May 2013

The news of the proposed closure of residential care homes across the North has led to political chaos. Health minister Edwin Poots has been under attack from the public, from the relatives of the elderly people affected, from Sinn Fein and from his fellow DUP MLAs. The first and deputy first minister have issued a public statement condemning the handling of the issue and, by implication, Poots.

Poots himself, in a manoeuvre typical of the Stormont Circus, has distanced himself from the issue, claiming that no decisions have been made and a simple consultation exercise has been botched by his underlings in the Boards. He is contradicted by the facts. Ten of the thirteen Belfast homes have been closed. Private firms are already discussing with government the latest tranche of closures. 

Yet what the Sherlocks of the local media miss is the fact that, underneath the babble, there is absolute political unity around the "Transforming Your Care" policy.

That policy comes straight from the privatisation bible. A goal that people will agree with is identified - in this case staying at home and receiving medical care at home. No social changes are required. There is no need for housing, planning, education or health changes to support community and solidarity. 

Instead there is a technical fix. Computers and robots will support home living. The technology is far from fully developed and there is no large-scale investment, but this will not be a problem as the windfall from the transfer of the homes from public to private hands will pay for everything. 

In this case public outcry has forced an apparent u-turn, but there is no movement on the privatisation agenda. The affair shows the extent to which the Stormont assembly is a conspiracy against the working class. To begin with, no matter how dreadful his performance, neither Poots nor any other minister can be removed. A policy of ministerial independence means that only the DUP can act. The policy itself is a formalisation of collaboration between the DUP to share out sectarian spoils without squabbling.

The second issue is the limits of the right wing populism and clientelism that connects the Stormont parties to their respective bases. It is enough to force what is apparently a rapid turn, but leaves the parties free to pursue their class interest, which involves the privatisation of public resources.

Without a socialist programme and a working class party to enforce it, the austerity will grind on behind the hypocritical expressions of concern by the capitalist parties.


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