There’s a macabre joke in Britain these days that my friends and family also play. We compete to see who has had to wait the longest for medical treatment. It starts relatively innocuously. People talk of the ordinary things: like having to wait days to get an appointment with a doctor. They call up in the morning at 8 a.m., only to be told that all of the slots are gone. Best of luck tomorrow.
Then someone will say that they’re waiting for minor surgery. Perhaps a small corrective procedure. It was put off first for the pandemic, and now is lost amid a sea of backlogged work. They wonder if someone has lost their details in the slush.
Normally I win, although not always. My old general practitioner retired before the pandemic, and his practice was transferred over to another doctor. Ordinarily, I’m due to see a nurse a couple of times a year to test my asthma, and I have a boring ongoing eye thing too, for which I was receiving treatment before Covid.
My previous doctor retired before the pandemic, remember. I have been on the rolls of the new guy for three years. I have never seen him, nor had any contact from his staff.
I’m young and strong so this amuses rather than bothers me. But for others, this chronic dysfunction is nightmarish. They wait for treatment, their lives drifting away, which in other countries would have been given to them months or years ago.
Across British society, the same things are happening. I have heard from innumerable people over the past few months that whenever they encounter the state, it is found hollow and wanting.
A report today from the Guardian suggests that Britain is so short of capacity in dentistry — 90 percent of dentists are accepting no new patients — that people are resorting to performing necessary procedures themselves.
Britain’s police force is desiccated and weak already. Under 6 percent of crimes are ‘solved,’ according to statistics published in April. But now its members are required to act as paramedics, with reports that overstretched ambulance services are dispatching police to deal with people in cardiac arrest because local health trusts don’t have the ambulances to spare.
Every year we hear that the National Health Service is ‘on the brink’ and facing a particularly bad ‘winter crisis,’ something that affects the NHS every year that I can remember. This year, we are assured, it will be even worse than usual.
The economy is also in poor shape. Britain has not had serious real wage growth in fifteen years. Its economy is shortly predicted to enter prolonged inflationary recession.
Projections indicate that Norway and Poland will have larger economies than Britain within twenty years. As the value of Sterling has slid (it’s now approaching the dollar), the purchasing power of Britain’s wages have fallen. Compared to Americans — who consider themselves hard-pressed — British workers earn a pittance.
The country feels poor, weak, and increasingly bitter. It is hard to be positive when nothing works. Popular bête-noirs have been identified: at the moment, they are energy companies. British energy bills have been capped by the government for the past four years, but that hasn’t stopped them tripling. The fact that energy companies are allowed to turn a profit — that’s the problem, say the public (and nothing to do with the price of the commodity in question skyrocketing in value worldwide).
When the Bank of England, after much delay, put up interest rates, in line with Canada and the United States, the public snarled with anger and fear. So indebted are so many, they believe a modest rise in rates will push them into bankruptcy.
Britain can’t build housing, either privately or through the state. So beholden is the political system to property owners, that pre-existing residents have near total veto power on new developments. Naturally this makes young families poorer and young professionals less productive.
People are trapped living far from their jobs and their friends, or paying eyewatering rents.
A great howl of despair is audible in Britain, even on bright sunny days. The country is falling apart.
Two people are currently competing to lead the Conservative Party and the country. They should have things to say about all this. Or so you would think.
Liz Truss wants to cut taxes, which means the entire establishment en bloc has decided that she wishes to wreck the economy. (As if it could get worse and more dilapidated.) She doesn’t want to build new houses or ameliorate many crises swirling around.
The other guy, Rishi Sunak, used to run the Treasury as chancellor. The current situation is substantially his fault. He raised taxes on lower paid workers before his resignation. High taxes and negative growth. Just what we need.
This piece was originally published in Spectator World.