What has neoliberalism done to health and education policy?

healthcare policy

Following this week’s announcement that some schools across England and Wales would be closing early up to twice a week due to funding cuts, and that the chronically underfunded NHS is scrapping the 4-hour wait policy, I started thinking about the wider consequences of neoliberal health and education policies on a country’s progress.

Systematic inequalities

There is no doubt that, for all its flaws, the UK’s health and education system is exceptionally good compared to many other countries.

However even here, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, systematic inequalities mean that the borough in which you live determines the schools your children can go to and the speed and quality of your healthcare. How have the global policies around education and healthcare evolved with the current neoliberal capitalist framework?

The problem with smart economics

A previous post I wrote detailed the problem of ‘smart economics’ – the idea that shoehorning women and girls into the labour market will have a positive overall impact on economic growth.

The same rationale is applied to health and education: better healthcare systems will produce healthier workers, which will increase productivity and therefore increase income. Individuals will use their increased income to educate themselves and their children, and therefore the overall economic growth of a country will improve. The wealth this generates will inevitably trickle down to the worst-off demographic, who will take advantage of this to pull themselves out of destitution, and all will be well.

Whilst the neoliberal model makes sense on the surface, by turning both sectors into profit driven industries, certain sections of society will inevitably be locked out, evidenced by the American healthcare system, or Britain’s private school proliferation.

Yet it runs deeper: in developing countries, such as Brazil and India, certain professions are desired more than others, particularly STEM subjects and Medicine for the socio-economic status they bring. ‘Trendy’ companies (looking at you Google and Buzzfeed) often provide perks such as hot meals, free snacks, gym membership, nap rooms, in order to maximise as many working hours from their employees as possible.

Countries like South Korea and Japan have become socialised into working intense and brutal hours, so much so that corporate and state efforts such as turning off office lights at 10pm or implementing 3pm Friday clock-off times have made little impact.

The concern is not genuine, it is profit-driven: increased productivity leads to increased profitability whilst simultaneously masking how exploitative it is to ply workers with ‘perks’ that pressure them into staying longer and longer in the office.

Health and education are human rights, not businesses

How does this link to health and education? In much the same way, global health and education systems are now being designed as business models, not as an economic and basic human right.

Once that happens, the focus becomes profit and, however much that can be rationalised as reinvestment or research, the fact remains that neither healthcare nor education should be money-making sectors, especially not in the short term. Nor should the responsibility for providing these services shift from the government to the charity sector, as is increasingly becoming the case.

Campaigns that coax us to fund their schools and healthcare projects not only tend to reproduce the white saviour complex, but individualise the problem by placing the donor in the centre of the debate and changing the discourse from ‘the state must act’ to ‘you must act’. This simply takes attention away from the deeper issues, and shifts the onus away from the moral and civic duty of the state – not the market – to provide for its citizens.

The neoliberal capital model of healthcare and education implementation is going downhill in both developing and ‘developed’ countries. The concern should be widespread, not regionalised.

Essentially, this way of solving the world’s problems normalises the idea that one is only worth how much money one has in the bank. This is a truly sad, cold way to treat human beings, and we can, and must, strive for better by pushing for a moral rationale that puts wellbeing, not capital, at the core of its ideology.

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