Activists organised a march through Leamington Spa as part of a campaign to protect the NHS and the education system from government cuts last Sunday afternoon.
The march, which drew some 400 protesters, began in the park at the top of the Parade, with the crowd making its way down to the bandstand outside the Pump Rooms. There followed speeches from NHS campaigners, local teachers, parents, GPs and a 12-year old pupil from North Leamington School.
The march cost the organisers £450, which they attempted to recoup through donation buckets, as the Warwick District Council reportedly used a private company to close off the Parade. A fundraiser laughed: “I feel like I’m taking money from the church – do you want some change?”
Local activists worked in conjunction with South Warwickshire’s Keep Our NHS Public (SWKONP). Many of the protestors carried signs and placards, reading: “No Funds No Future”, “Jeremy leave the cuts to the surgeons” and “Ignorance is expensive.”
Addressing the rally at the end of the march in Leamington’s Pump Room Gardens, Anna Pollert, Secretary of SWKONP, stated: “We’re here to tell our local representatives and this government that we won’t stand for the destruction of our NHS and our education system by the savage cuts being imposed by the Tories.”
“The decade 2010-2020 sees the largest ever sustained reduction in health spending as a percentage of GDP. The Government claims it has invested £10 billion. It hasn’t. The true figure is £4.5 billion and it’s not enough to meet growing health care needs.”
Labour councillor Matt Western, member of SWKONP and parliamentary candidate for Warwick and Leamington also addressed the local rally: “The public are now beginning to see the true colours of this Government as it slashes real-term budgets at all our schools with the likely losses of up to a quarter of teaching staff in some. This is real: many teaching staff have already been served notice.”
He added that “The Government has a clear strategy of under-funding the public sector, waiting for it to fail and then ensuring the private sector is encouraged to move in. The recent cyber-attack on the NHS is one of the most visible examples of this.”
The Government has a clear strategy of under-funding the public sector, waiting for it to fail and then ensuring the private sector is encouraged to move in.
Youssef El-Gingihy, GP and author of How to Dismantle the NHS, said: “The NHS has been abolished in legal terms, which sounds very shocking because on the surface you still go to your GP, the A&E, you go to hospital, and everything looks the same.”
“But underneath, everything is transformed and this has been a 30-year journey of converting the NHS from being publicly provided, publicly owned and even to some extent publicly financed, to a market system moving towards a private health insurance model.”
“Austerity, or the massive cuts we’ve seen are not a necessity. They are a choice, a political and economic choice that benefits a corporate and financial elite.”
Meanwhile, 12-year-old George from North Leamington School urged people to get involved in preventing further cuts to local schools. According to the National Audit Office, schools will face £3 billion in cuts by 2020, the biggest real-term cuts in a generation. This is likely to cause larger class sizes, fewer subject choices (particularly in the Arts), fewer TAs and less special needs support.
Seventeen schools across Warwick and Leamington were predicted to face over £4 million in budget cuts by 2019, and lose 151 teachers.
A local protester commented: “The rally is designed to show solidarity and unity against the backdrop of the potential change. We want to show that whatever the result of the general election on 8 June, we are here for our NHS and local schools and we want to create positive lasting change to protect them.”
Activists will also be organising an Education Question Time next Monday at 7pm in the Leamington Town Hall, where prospective parliamentary candidates as well as standing MP Chris White will answer questions on their plans for education in the constituency.