Category Archives: Changes

“Hunger, filth, fear and death”: remembering life before the NHS


I came across the following article, by following a link posted on Facebook. It was published in the New Statesman, on 31st October, 2014 and, after reading it, I was so very saddened to realise that, once again, through the machinations of the ‘ruling’ classes, the UK has, in 2019, found itself in such a similar situation to that of Harry Smith, as he grew up in the 1920’s, that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the sheer waste of time, that so many people fought, strived, and died through, in order to make life better for themselves and their families and friends 😦

Once again, almost a century after Harry’s birth, there are countless people here in the UK, living in gruelling poverty – with Child Poverty at an all-time high since the Welfare State began – and it’s all due to the greed and corruption of the same class of people who, through their constant lies and deceit, have turned our country from the safe place I grew up in, into a similar scenario to Harry Smith’s early life 😦

Read his account and, if you can’t see the similarities, then you must be part of the problem 😦

Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old RAF veteran born into an impoverished mining family, recalls a Britain without a welfare state.
  By Harry Leslie Smith

Over 90 years ago, I was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, to a working-class family. Poverty was as natural to us as great wealth and power were to the aristocracy of that age. Like his father and grandfather before him, my dad, Albert, eked out a meagre existence as a miner, working hundreds of feet below the surface, smashing the rock face with a pickaxe, searching for coal.

Hard work and poor wages didn’t turn my dad into a radical. They did, however, make him an idealist, because he believed that a fair wage, education, trade unions and universal suffrage were the means to a prosperous democracy. He endured brutal working conditions but they never hardened his spirit against his family or his comrades in the pits. Instead, the harsh grind of work made his soul as gentle as a beast of burden that toiled in desolate fields for the profit of others.

My mother, Lillian, however, was made of sterner stuff. She understood that brass, not love, made the world go round. So when a midwife with a love of gin and carbolic soap delivered me safely on a cold winter’s night in February 1923 into my mum’s exhausted arms, I was swaddled in her rough-and-ready love, which toughened my skin with a harsh affection. I was the first son but I had two elder sisters who had already skinned their knees and elbows in the mad fight to stay alive in the days before the social safety network. Later on, our family would include two half-brothers, after my mother was compelled to look for a more secure provider than my dad during the Great Depression.

By the time I was weaned from my mother’s breast, I had begun to learn the cruel lessons that the world inflicted on its poor. At the age of seven, my eldest sister, Marion, contracted tuberculosis, which was a common and deadly disease for those who lived hand to mouth in early-20th-century Britain. Her illness was directly spawned from our poverty, which forced us to live in a series of fetid slums.

Despite being a full-time worker, my dad was always one pay packet away from destitution. Several times, my family did midnight flits and moved from one decre­pit single-bedroom tenement to the next. Yet we never seemed to move far from the town’s tip, a giant wasteland stacked with rotting rubbish, which became a playground for preschool children.

At the beginning of my life, affordable health care was out of reach for much of the population. A doctor’s visit could cost the equivalent of half a week’s wages, so most people relied on good fortune rather than medical advice to see them safely through an illness. But luck and guile went only so far and many lives were snatched away before they had a chance to start. The wages of the ordinary worker were at a mere subsistence level and therefore medicine or simple rest was out of the question for many people.

Unfortunately for my sister, luck was also in short supply in our household. Because my parents could neither afford to see a consultant nor send my sister to a sanatorium, Marion’s TB spread and infected her spine, leaving her an invalid.

****

The 1926 General Strike, which began just as my sister started her slow and painful journey from life to death, was about more than wages to my dad and many others. It was called by the TUC in protest against mine owners who were using strong-arm tactics to force their workers to accept longer work hours for less take-home pay. At its start, it involved 1.7 million industrialised workers.

In essence, the strike was about the right of all people, regardless of their economic station, to live a dignified and meaningful life. My father joined it with enthusiasm, because he believed that all workers, from tram drivers to those who dug ore, deserved a living wage. But for my father the strike  was also about the belief that he might be able to right the wrongs done to him and his family; if only he had more money in his pay packet, he might have been able to afford decent health care for all of us.

Unfortunately, the General Strike was crushed by the government, which first bullied TUC members to return to their work stations. Eight months later, it did the same to the miners whose communities had been beggared by being on the pickets for so long. My dad and his workmates had to accept wage cuts.

I remember my sister’s pain and anguish during her final weeks of life in October 1926. I’d play beside her in our parlour, which was as squalid as an animal pen, while she lay on a wicker landau, tied down by ropes to prevent her from falling to the ground while unattended. When Marion’s care became too much for my mother to endure, she was sent to our neighbourhood workhouse, which had been imprisoning the indigent since the days of Charles Dickens.

The workhouse where Marion died was a large, brick building less than a mile from our living quarters. Since it had been designed as a prison for the poor, it had few windows and had a high wall surrounding it. When my sister left our house and was transported there on a cart pulled by an old horse, my mum and dad told my other sister and me to wave goodbye, because Marion was going to a better place than here.

The workhouse was not used only as a prison for those who had been ruined by poverty; it also had a primitive infirmary attached to it, where the poor could receive limited medical attention. Perhaps the only compassion the place allowed my parents was permission to visit their daughter to calm her fears of death.

My sister died behind the thick, limestone walls at the age of ten, and perhaps the only compassion the place allowed my parents was permission to visit their daughter to calm her fears of death. As we didn’t have the money to give her a proper burial, Marion was thrown into a communal grave for those too poor to matter. Since then, the pauper’s pit has been replaced by a dual carriageway.

****

Some historians have called the decade of my birth “the Roaring Twenties” but for most it was a long death rattle. Wages were low, rents were high and there was little or no job protection as a result of a postwar recession that had gutted Britain’s industrial heartland. When the Great Depression struck Britain in the 1930s, it turned our cities and towns into a charnel house for the working class, because they had no economic reserves left to withstand prolonged joblessness and the ruling class believed that benefits led to fecklessness.

Even now, when I look back to those gaslight days of my boyhood and youth, all I can recollect is hunger, filth, fear and death. My mother called those terrible years for our family, our friends and our nation a time when “hard rain ate cold Yorkshire stone for its tea”.

I will never forget seeing as a teenager the faces of former soldiers who had been broken physically and mentally during the Great War and were living rough in the back alleys of Bradford. Their faces were haunted not by the brutality of the war but by the savagery of the peace. Nor will I forget as long as I shall live the screams that fell out of dosshouse windows from the dying and mentally ill, who were denied medicine and solace because they didn’t have the money to pay for medical services.

Like today, those tragedies were perpetuated by a coalition government preaching that the only cure for our economic troubles was a harsh austerity, which promised to right Britain’s finances through the sacrifice of its lowest-paid workers. When my dad got injured, the dole he received was ten shillings a week. My family, like millions of others, were reduced to beggary. In the 1930s, the government believed that private charities were more suitable for providing alms for those who had been ruined in the Great Depression.

Austerity in the 1930s was like a pogrom against Britain’s working class. It blighted so many lives through preventable ailments caused by malnutrition, as well as thwarting ordinary people’s aspirations for a decent life by denying them housing, full- time employment or a proper education.

As Britain’s and my family’s economic situation worsened in the 1930s, we upped sticks from Barnsley to Bradford in the hope that my father might find work. But there were too many adults out of work and jobs were scarce, so he never found full-time employment again. We lived in dosshouses. They were cheap, sad places filled with people broken financially and emotionally. Since we had no food, my mum had me indentured to a seedy off-licence located near our rooming house. At the age of seven, I became a barrow boy and delivered bottles of beer to the down-and-outs who populated our neighbourhood.

My family were nomads. We flitted from one dosshouse to the next, trying to keep ahead of the rent collector. We moved around the slums of Bradford and when we had outstayed our welcome there, we moved on to Sowerby Bridge, before ending up in Halifax. As I grew up, my schooling suffered; I had to work to keep my sister, my mum and half-brothers fed. At the age of ten, I was helping to deliver coal and by my teens, I started work as a grocer’s assistant. At 17, I had been promoted to store manager. However, at the age of 18, the Second World War intervened in whatever else I had planned for the rest of my life. I volunteered to join the RAF.

****

My politics was forged in the slums of Yorkshire but it was in the summer of 1945, at the age of 22, that I finally felt able to exorcise the misery of my early days. In that long ago July, I was a member of the RAF stationed in Hamburg; a city left ruined and derelict by war. I had been a member of the air force since 1941 but my war had been good, because I had walked away from it without needing so much as a plaster for a shaving nick. At its end, my unit had been seconded to be part of the occupational forces charged with rebuilding a German society gutted by Hitler and our bombs.

It was in the palm of that ravaged city that I voted in Britain’s first general election since the war began. As I stood to cast my ballot in the heat of that summer, I joked with my mates, smoked Player’s cigarettes and stopped to look out towards a shattered German skyline. I realised then that this election was momentous because it meant that a common person, like me, had a chance of changing his future.

So it seemed only natural and right that I voted for a political party that saw health care, housing and education as basic human rights for all of its citizens and not just the well-to-do. When I marked my X on the ballot paper, I voted for all those who had died, like my sister, in the workhouse; for men like my father who had been broken beyond repair by the Great Depression; and for women like my mum who had been tortured by grief over a child lost through unjust poverty. And I voted for myself and my right to a fair and decent life.

I voted for Labour and the creation of the welfare state and the NHS, free for all its users. And now, nearly 70 years later, I fear for the future of my grandchildren’s generation, because Britain’s social welfare state is being dismantled brick by brick.

****

My life didn’t really begin until the end of the Second World War. I fell in love with Friede, a German woman, whom I married and brought home to Halifax. My wife gave me emotional stability while the welfare state gave me economic stability. When I was demobbed, I didn’t have many prospects, except using my brawn over my brain. I took factory jobs while my wife and I studied at night school. But I am forever grateful for the foundation of the NHS, because it allowed my wife to receive first-rate treatment for the PTSD she acquired by having witnessed both the atrocities of the Nazis and the firebombing of Hamburg, which killed 50,000 people in three nights of intense RAF bombing in 1943.

My experiences of growing up in Britain before the NHS, when one’s health was determined by one’s wealth, and after 1948, when free health care was seen as a cornerstone for a healthy economy and democracy, convinced me that it was my duty to share my family experiences at this year’s Labour party conference. I agreed to speak about the NHS because I know there are few people left who can remember that brutal time before the welfare state, when life for many was short and cruel. I felt that I owed it to my sister Marion, whose life was cut short by extreme poverty and poor health care, along with all of those other victims of a society that protected the rich and condemned the poor to miserable lives. In many ways, making that speech freed me from the suffering of my youth. 

* * * * * * * *

Harry Leslie Smith is the author of a memoir: “Harry’s Last Stand: How the World My Generation Built is Falling Down and What We Can Do to Save it” (Icon Books, £8.99) 

* * * * * * * *

Harry Leslie Smith is a survivor of the Great Depression, a Second World War RAF veteran and an activist for the poor and for the preservation of social democracy. He has authored numerous books about Britain during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and post-war austerity. Join Harry on Twitter @Harryslaststand.

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Watch The Iceland Christmas Ad Which Will Never Be Shown After Authorities Banned It . . .

This ad has been going the rounds on Facebook for days now and, every time I watch it, I cry – not only for the Oragutan bravely trying to stop the destruction of it’s home, but also for the sheer destruction being allowed  every  single  day – all for the sake of a few multi-billionnaire’s profits!

I still don’t understand why housewives keep buying products full of palm oil – the destruction of the rain forests, in order to grow this stuff, is known world-wide now, so why don’t they boycott the products, and start protesting, along with the few die-hards who have been shouting out about this for years?

I guess the answer will be, they keep buying, because it’s cheaper for their pockets – but they don’t seem to realise that it won’t only be the Orangutans – and every other species – devestated by the rainforest’s destruction, who will pay this desperate price for so-called progress – it will be their children, and their children’s children, who will end up paying the final price for their momentary saving!

I’m not surprised any more at how short-term savings drive such destruction of our environment – but I am surprised that people don’t seem to realise that this is the only home we, and so many other species being killed off for our momentary satisfation, have got, and so it’s up to us to start thinking about the future – or lack of it – of this Planet Earth.

But, in the meantime, this ad brought to our notice, ironically, by the Supermarket chain, Iceland, has been banned from airing on TV by the powers-that-be, for being ‘too political’!

Just how political are most ads we see on the TV screen every day? Quite a lot, thankyou!

But, because the ads are for something that is to the advantage of the reigning political party of whichever country it’s aired in, that’s OK, then 😦

All of my life I’ve loved Orangutans – but even more so since ‘The Librarian’ was introduced to us all, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (and, yes, I’m a total Pratcheteer, here!).

Terry brought to life the wonderful gentleness, the fierce loyalty, and the enduring pain, that The Librarian shows in his character and, although he is just a character, it made countlesss thouands of us all aware that we have the basis of this creature, this wonderfully amazing Primate, being torn away from his and her homeland – a homeland the Orangutan has probably lived in for as long as they have been a species – and all that pain, killing, and destruction of their habitat, has come about because of the human race’s greed and avarice, our need to buy products a couple of cents, or dimes, or pennies, cheaper!

I hope this ad gets all around the world because of the internet – and that something can be finally done, before every single habitat of the Orangutan has been bulldozed over!

Iceland’s Christmas TV advert banned for being too political: Supermarket’s Greenpeace film on palm oil’s impact on orangutan deemed rule breach

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Benefits Freeze Adds to Universal Credit Misery.

I was interested to see this post, as I’ve recently been told that my area is going to roll out Universal Credit, and so I went onto the government website to see how I would be affected and, at the present rates, I’m going to end up being around £2,400 a year worse off – I’m really looking forward to both starving, and freezing, while also being housebound, and also unable to keep myself, or my home, clean!

Universal Credit is a disgrace, and the Tories have so much blood on their hands already, I guess they don’t care that it’s going to get very much worse for anyone who is being forced on to it 😦

Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Image result for universal credit cartoonMore than the usual ‘system error’.

The controversy about Universal Credit continues to develop.

Today the Currant Bun, not the Claimants’ chum,  headlines

Universal Credit revolt by THIRTY Tory MPs as they urge Chancellor to plug £2bn black hole which will leave millions worse off.

At least two dozen have signed a letter to the Treasury highlighting their fears to the Chancellor – urging him that an extra £2billion is needed for the reform.

Around a million people are expected to go onto Universal Credit next year as part of the rollout to everyone over the next five years.

The letter reads: “As it stands 3.2million working families are expected to be worse off, with an average loss of £48 a week.

“Enabling hard working parents to keep more of what they earn and thus encouraging them to take up more work is at the heart of Conservative policy.

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If Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech on anti-Semitism, perhaps this is what he should say . . .

Corbyn’s Labour has been attacked by the anti-Semitism trolls over the last few days.

This Writer is looking forward to his speech – expecially if it takes the angle chosen by a Labour Party spokesman when pro-Tory-pressure-group-pretending-to-be-a-charity the Campaign Against Antisemitism tried to complain about Mr Corbyn (again).

He said [boldings mine]: “Labour is committed to rooting out antisemitism from our party and society. False and partisan attacks like this undermine the fight against antisemitism.

The Milk the Cow Podcast has made a few suggestions which are far too strong to publish unedited here. Those of you of strong character can see the original by following this link.

For the rest of you, I’ll paraphrase . . . . . . .

Please click the following link to read the complete post by Vox Political’s Mike Sivier:

If Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech on anti-semitism perhaps this is what he should say:


Comment:

The continuous attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, which started even before he won the leadership of the Labour Party, has been constant, brutal, and totally and utterly uncalled for, especially by those right-leaning MP’s in his own party who, through pique, greed, or sheer bloody-mindedness, have decided to do the job that the Tories and the Media have tried to do since he came into office – which is to try and get rid of him.

The Reason?

Because Jeremy Corbyn has got the fire, the will, and the decency that so many Tory, and right-leaning Labour, MP’s haven’t got!

Jeremy has consistently fought against any kind of oppression, no matter where it was, or who was doing it, and he has done this throughout his political life – and that’s why so many hundreds of thousands of us voted him in as the leader of the Labour Party because, for the first time in far too many years, we see a man who can lead this country away from the disasters that the Tories have brought on us, through their greed, dishonesty, and their belief that, because they are rich, then they should be able to do as they please, strip our public services, our land, and our future – and we should bow down our heads, and allow these selfish, amoral, people to do with us, and our country, what they wish to – because, don’t forget, people, there are a damn sight more of us than there are of them, and so it is our country!

We’ve all seen where their leadership has led us, despite the Media blackout of real news!

The deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who have had the small amount of money they have to live on be taken away, because ‘they are just not trying hard enough’ to get a job – and this, in a country where the elite have managed to kill almost all  of our industries through their greed for ever more profits!

The destruction of OUR NHS – and, yes, it IS ours! Bought and paid for with our grandparents, parents, and our, hard-earned taxes. All of this has been brought about through the deliberate financial starvation of the NHS, by the elite, because they are planning to almost give it away to their Billionaire pals, who own the private medical businesses around the world that most of the tories probably own shares in, and so plan to earn yet another fortune, off the backs of the poor, once more!

Our NHS will be privatised, and stolen away from us, and the dream that our forefathers had, to make sure that none of their children and grandchildren would die through a lack of free medical care – which is something our grandparents saw all too brutally, in the days when we had no National Health Service, and where, if you didn’t have the money, you didn’t get the care!

And then we have the disaster called Brexit!

When all those MP’s went out with their campaign buses, with the lie that the money saved from going for Brexit will be used to fund the NHS, so many people fell for it, that nobody actually questioned the figures being spouted by these cleverly deceitful liers – and so the country voted for Brexit – and spat in the eye of the hundreds of thousands of European people who live and work here in Britain – mainly in our much-loved NHS – people who are our friends, our neighbours, our loved ones, our family! And so we told them that they weren’t wanted any more – we’d used them, and spat them out again, like so much discarded gum!

And so we truly have got the government we deserve – one that will keep squeezing people until they can’t bear it any more, one that will keep killing the poor, the old, the vulnerable, until we go back where we are considered as serfs, just like in the past, where the super rich owned everything – because they stole it from us all in the first place – and where they will dictate to us when we can eat, sleep, breath and, most importantly for them, work all the hours of the day and night, all for their bid for even more wealth – and we’ll watch the future of our earth be laid to waste – all in the bid for more obscene profit! 😦

But I don’t believe we deserve a government like that!

I believe we deserve a government who look after it’s poor, it’s ill, it’s weak, it’s elderly, it’s vulnerable – and who look after the people who work hard for little wages, but want to build a better society for their children, and their children’s children – just like our grandparents did for us!

And the only way we’re going to get a government like that, is to stop believing the lies thrown at us every day by this tory government – and the media they control – and listen to Jeremy Corbyn and his cabinet-in-waiting, and then vote Labour in the next election!

Because the Tories are only looking after themselves – they always have, and they always will do! 😦

So, the next time you have a chance to listen to Jeremy Corbyn, and the people in his Cabinet, listen closely to what they are saying – and not what the Media twist it into – then think about what you want this country – and even this world – to be like for your children, and theirs, and let’s get rid of the poison that has slowly been killing our people, our country, and the Democracy our forefathers fought so hard for in the first place!

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Esther McVey lies again – to Work and Pensions Committee | DPAC

This Site’s article about the Tories wasting more than £100 million in two years on persecuting the sick and disabled made a very important point – that the figures never tie together perfectly because they aren’t intended to.

It seems that the issue is worse than I stated: Esther McVey’s department has been found to have sent one set of figures to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, and then sent another set – that the DWP had told the committee weren’t available – in response to a Freedom of Information request.

So the DWP has been deliberately trying to hide information from MPs.

Now, why would anybody want to do that?


My Comment:

If you want to read the complete article, posted online by Mike Silvier, at Vox Political Online, then please click on this link:

Esther McVey Lies Again . . .

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Disabled people’s response to PIP review: STARK TERROR . . .

Judge Death: Esther McVey’s Department for Work and Pensions will evaluate the PIP entitlement of people who have died since claiming – including some whose claims were refused altogether. Fat lot of good it’ll do them [Image: PA].

Perhaps Esther McVey thought disabled people would be grateful when she announced that every claim for Personal Independence Payment would be reviewed, because the government was under-paying people with mental health problems. If so, SHE THOUGHT WRONG.

In fact, the 1.6 million PIP recipients whose claims are to be reviewed have greeted the announcement, not with gratitude, but with terror.

Vox Political commenter ‘Florence’ explains:

 

The decision to review all cases had caused alarm among the PIP base; we see yet another opportunity to be denied benefits. The DWP are not trusted, and the decision to review all 1.6 million claims will undoubtedly have some unpleasant side effects.

While [the] opportunity to gain extra data on the appalling Human Rights situation is welcomed, the simple fact we are all being put through a desk-based review before our existing review date just fills us all with dread.

To read the full article, posted today by Mike Silvier, of VOX POLITICAL, please click on the link below:

Disabled People’s response to PPIP Review: STARK TERROR.

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Video: doctor speaks powerfully – “the humanity is being sucked out of our NHS” . . .

Lauren Gavaghan is a doctor, psychiatrist and well-known NHS campaigner. On Thursday evening she spoke movingly to a mass gathering of Labour NHS campaigners about the suffering and beauty she has seen in ten years of service in the NHS – and the vampiric effect of Tory government.

What she said was powerful, inspiring – and terrifying. She spoke of huge shortages, of the disrespect of the government toward patients and staff – and of the unnecessary and undignified deaths the under-resourcing of the NHS has caused. And she summed it up in one haunting phrase:

” The humanity is being sucked out of our NHS. ”

This video brings home the preciousness of the National Health Service that Labour built, the disaster imposed on it – and the awful prospect of its loss. Please watch and share:

Please click the link below, to watch the video of her speech, posted online by The Swawkbox, today:
Doctor speaks powerfully: ‘The Humanity is being sucked out of our NHS’

 

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