Anyone wishing to understand our present social system need look no further than the Financial Times of 1 November. In an article titled ‘Demand for UK children’s services drives investor interest’, author Gill Plimmer waxed lyrical about the growing ‘maturity’ and ‘attractiveness’ of the market in privatised children’s services, from children’s homes, foster care and kids’ mental health units, to academised schools and nurseries.
Highlighting the relative immunity of such ‘investment vehicles’ from the shocks of 2020’s market crash and the covid pandemic, Ms Plimmer gushed: “Although referrals for care fell from the end of April as the pandemic intensified and schools closed, children’s homes remained open and government funding to specialist schools continued, so most businesses in the sector were relatively unaffected.”
Profits not people, are capitalism’s priority
In this one sentence, Plimmer has unwittingly highlighted the reason for the determined 40-year drive to privatise all Britain’s social services, despite the fact that outcomes have deteriorated year on year even as costs to the exchequer (ie, to the taxpayer) have skyrocketed.
Capital seeks profit everywhere and always. As opportunities for profit-taking are drying up in the productive economy, in manufacture and construction, owing to the capitalist crisis of overproduction, any and everything possible must be done to create investment opportunities for the huge agglomerations of capital sloshing around the globe with nowhere to go.
This may be achieved through stock-market driven speculation in land, property and shares, creating bubbles that must, in the not too distant future, burst. Or it may be through the privatisation of any sector of the economy not yet being looted for profits.
According to Henry Elphick, chief executive of LaingBuisson (described by Wikipedia as a “a healthcare business intelligence provider”), the £14bn-a-year market in England’s neglected children is “reaching a scale and maturity that makes it increasingly attractive to investors … The appeals of the sector are clear – a sizeable market, an outsourcing of provision to the independent sector, increasing demand and a lack of supply.”
What is to be welcomed still more, according to this ‘analyst in healthcare investment’, is that the ranks of England’s destitute workers, and their offspring, are swelling! “The number of children in care in the UK increased 11 percent in the five years to 31 March 2019 to about 98,756, while real-terms spending increased about 4.4 percent … In England, the public sector provides nearly £10bn of services, while the independent sector provides £4.1bn with a continued shift towards the private sector.”
Moreover, “The proportion of services provided by the private sector is highest in special schools and colleges, where about one-third of all spending, or £1.2bn, went to the private sector in 2019. This was followed by residential care for children at £1.15bn for 2019-20 and fostering at £790m.
“The larger providers with a focus on special education” are the most profitable, charging an average of £45,105 a year for a full-time day place, as opposed to the £23,175 it costs for a local authority run school.
Never have the needs of humans and the needs of capital been so glaringly at odds as at times like these. When services that are vital to the wellbeing of our people are turned over to the logic of the market, what unfailingly results is a profit-driven logic that sees staff numbers and expertise reduced, working conditions destroyed and working hours increased, while the service that is delivered to those in need – in this case, Britain’s children – becomes ever more ineffective and inconsistent. The bill, on the other hand, goes up and up and up.
A marvellous result for shareholders; a catastrophe for everyone else
All in all, the ongoing marketisation and privatisation of our health and social care sector is a marvellous result for shareholders and a catastrophe for everyone else.
In the case of children’s services, we can add to this calamitous situation the insanity of treating the nation’s children – on whom our society’s future rests – as mere material for extracting profit, no matter what the cost.
What right-minded person would honestly choose that the most vulnerable of our children – those in children’s homes or suffering from the growing epidemic of mental ill-health – should be farmed out to the tender mercies of corporations whose primary motivation is cutting the wages and conditions of their staff and increasing the profits to their owners? Who really believes that the next generation’s education is best left in the hands of such vultures?
Yet the article happily reports on a ‘surge’ of interest in the sector as a result of ‘rising demand’ for places in children’s homes, foster care, mental health facilities etc. The tragic tale of the toll that unemployment, austerity, rising poverty, deepening inequality and stress are taking on our children is passed over without comment, for in this mode of calculation, they represent just so much human collateral. While the system lasts, there is opportunity to be sought in the misfortune of the British working class.
Far more interesting to the FT’s readers, assumes Ms Plimmer, is the fact that big deals are “in the pipeline”. Among these is the sale of Elysium Healthcare (and if the practice of naming a healthcare company after the Greek afterlife is not enough to bring into question the ethos of its founders, let us note that it is responsible for an incredible 70 sites, including special schools and mental health services for children and adolescents) for a whopping £900m, while Keys Group (running more than 20 schools and 100 residential facilities for looked-after children) is up for grabs to anyone with £250m lying idle.
JP Morgan and Rothschild banks respectively are advising on the sales – and presumably receiving a handsome cut for their trouble. Meanwhile, The Priory, England’s largest mental healthcare provider for children and adults, is up for sale with an eye-watering £1bn price tag.
Despite the wonderful opportunities for profit-taking entailed in these transactions, neither the Elysium group nor Keys wanted to comment on the FT’s report, presumably understanding that in such cases the less that is understood by the general public, the better.
But with profit margins anywhere between 3 and 30 percent, it is clear why there are no shortage of interested parties willing to take on the “challenges” and “reputational risks” involved.
It is worth reflecting that this system we are adopting, without any democratic mandate from the British people, is that of the USA, where healthcare and educational services are the most expensive on earth, and also the most unequal, excluding 70 million workers from healthcare entirely but delivering hundreds of billions of dollars in profits to major health insurance groups.
Meanwhile, socialist Cuba delivers security, warmth, humanity, decency and better health outcomes to the entirety of its working-class population at a fraction of the monetary cost. But Cuba’s system is socialism, whose central tenet is that the economy, productive industry, science, research, the professions, the workers in all their many guises, the administrators and the politicians – in short, all human endeavour – should serve the people.