On Tuesday this week, a report was published by the health ombudsman, Ann Abraham. It was full of horror stories.
In one case, an 82 year-old died alone because staff did not realise her husband had been waiting to see her for three hours. In another, a woman was discharged from hospital covered in bruises, soaked in urine and wearing someone else’s clothes.
What’s interesting is that Ann Abraham did not blame this on cuts or lack of money. Rather:
“The findings of my investigations reveal an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to recognise the humanity and individuality of the people concerned and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism.
He argues that we need to support the civic organisations – churches, unions, families – which find themselves squeezed on both sides: by Conservatives on the right who have traditionally supported a free-market system that leads to selfish, atomised individuals; and by Labour on the left who support a bureaucratic and oppressive centralised state. The Right focused on liberty, the Left focused on equality; now it’s time to focus on fraternity:
He is drawing on a rich tradition of state-scepticism that argues that over time the state has slowly taken over activities that used to belong to the private sphere, and when it does it does these activities badly.
Criticism has come from the left as well. Michael Ignatieff, in The Needs of Strangers, argues that the ideas of justice that lie behind the welfare state are based on equality, but love is different. Love is about seeing the individual in front of you as uniquely important.
At the end of the last parliament, there was much talk of a National Care Service – a state replacement for looking after Gran and Grandad. Of course defenders of the state point out, for people with no family or kids, the state’s care is better than no care. But how do you replace the love of a son or daughter? How do politicians legislate to make a bureaucracy treat patients not like numbers, but like people?