“When Boris Johnson tells us we can trust him with the NHS, I think we know what that’s worth … this is the man who promised £350 million a week for the NHS and then laughed it off after the referendum.”
That was at the heart of the message to UNISON’s disabled members’ conference from assistant general secretary Christina McAnea this afternoon when she addressed delegates just days before the Westminster Parliament is dissolved for the general election.
Warning of how “Trump and the big health companies in the US” want access to the NHS, she reminded delegates that there have already been meetings about this between representatives of US pharmaceutical companies and UK officials – with nobody prepared to reveal precisely what has been discussed.
“This election is huge for us and our members,” she said.
“We need to use all of our contacts, all of our links, all of our communities” to make sure everyone is registered, has a postal vote – and then votes.
Don’t tell people who to vote for, Ms McAnea said: “Ask them to think about public services” when they vote, adding that “at least we now know that austerity was caused by having too many libraries and Sure Start centres”.
But on Brexit, she said that, “no matter how you voted in the referendum – and how you feel now – no-one voted for this and no-one voted for this mess that we’re in.”
Pointing out that independent research has said that Brexit will cost every single person in the UK at least £1,000 in the next year, Ms McAnea said that it also acted to mask the record of the Conservative Party in government since 2010: poverty, homeless, declining life expectancy and, for public service workers, attacks on pay and pensions.
Waiting times for health care have increased, “social care is on its knees” and nothing has been done to stop tax evasion and tax fraud – “that’s the Tory legacy and that’s what UNISON has to remind people of.”
Citing her mother’s saying that “the Tories only look after their own,” Ms McAnea noted: “it’s still true today”.
Praising the self-organised group for its efforts over the past 12 months – particularly in its work on developing guidance on measuring disability standards in NHS England – the assistant general secretary stressed that there is “still much to do to ensure that disabled workers can do their jobs – and have access to better jobs.
“As head of bargaining for UNISON, I’m proud of the work we do on pay and fighting low pay – and this is of particular importance for disabled workers, since there’s a 15% pay gap between disabled workers and those who are not disabled, and no indication that’s getting any better.”
Ms McAnea said that there is “no ‘them and us’ when it comes to this” and “we can all become disabled at any time”.
She told them that, for the third year, the biggest union in the UK – and we’re growing. You speak on issues that mean something to real, hard-working people.
“Every time you speak up for someone who’s been bullied, that sends out a message that we’re a union that cares, a union that acts and a union is successful.”