I, personally, feel that it is a moral imperative to fund affordable medical care, education, and pensions that support those who are unable to work by reason of age, disability, illness, caring responsibilities, or sheer misfortune (and seriously, the government’s own budget forecast says that unemployment is going to rise next year – tell me again how this is the fault of job seekers?). These, to my mind, should be the absolute first things that a country’s budget funds, because they are the basics that allow people to participate in society. We don’t have any declarations about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in our constitution, but I think that, as a rule, these are things Australians feel people should be entitled to, and they are pretty much dependent on being able to remain fed, clothed, in good health, and educated enough to pursue a career.
I’ve read a bit of commentary around the place that says, essentially, that while these things are all very well, someone has to pay for them, and we simply can’t afford them. And it’s irresponsible to spend these huge sums of money that we can’t afford during a budget emergency.
Look, I’m no economist. (And thank heavens for that – both I and the world are improved by that little piece of luck, frankly) I can’t tell whether there is a budget emergency or not. Charts like this one incline me to think not. But I’m a rabid loony lefty, so what would I know?
Anyway, I have no intention of discussing whether we are in a budget emergency or not, because as far as I can see, the conversation breaks down entirely along political lines anyway. What I want to address is whether it is fiscally responsible to cut the pension and add a co-pay to Medicare, because I don’t think it is. I think that leaving these two pillars of the social safety net alone is in fact a financial imperative as well as a moral one.
Ah yes, but who is going to pay for all this?
I think the point is – who will pay for it if we don’t. And the answer, in very real terms, is – the future.
(Hello, Budget Twilight Zone!)
Quite seriously, though, the Medicare co-payment will stop some people from going to the doctor. It will mean people will make their own judgment calls about how sick they are, and sometimes, because they are not qualified medical practitioners, they will get it wrong. By the time people do seek medical care, they will be sicker, and the costs of treatment for them will be higher. (Alternatively, they might not get to seek medical care at all because they will be dead, which probably is cheaper to treat, and also decreases the surplus population, but I don’t think anyone seriously wants to be cast in the role of Scrooge, here)
Other people might decide to delay or avoid vaccinations, because of the expense. Or they might choose to take their infectious disease in to work, because they can’t afford the doctor’s visit to get a sick certificate that day. I worked in a lab a few years ago where everyone got conjunctivitis again and again, because people kept coming back to work early and reinfecting everyone. (This was the fault of people having absolutely no common sense about infection despite working in medical research, and not the fault of medicare, and sadly, one cannot legislate against people being idiots, but one can certainly avoid putting barriers in the way of people who want to be sensible.) This resulted in a lot more doctor’s visits and prescriptions than would otherwise have been needed. And conjunctivitis is a relatively mild medical issue. There are plenty of other nasty infectious diseases that start off looking like a cold, and a lot of people are not going to see the doctor for a cold, especially if it’s the end of the pay cycle and they are low on money.
Chronic diseases will also be a growing problem. Fewer people going for checkups means fewer diseases being identified early – and so people will be sicker before they even start treatment for things like diabetes or heart disease or cancers. Setting aside that this is a horrible thing to do to people, this is going to burden both the health and the social security system, as breadwinners find themselves too sick to work, and reliant on the pensions that we are currently busy cutting. The entire new pension system now seems to rely on families supporting young people potentially up to the age of 30 while their parents work until 70 – but with reduced access to medical care, fewer people are going to be able to remain in full-time work for this long.
I don’t know whether it will be five years down the track or ten, but make no mistake – we will inevitably find ourselves with greater per capita medical costs, and two options: either the common purse pays for it, or we go down the American route of treating only people who can afford to cover the costs of their medical treatment. Given that America is currently trying to dismantle their own system because it is so destructive to individuals, families, and society generally, I don’t think we want to go down that route.
On the social security side, I’ve already mentioned the way health will impact on the pensions, but let me return again to the policy of leaving young people with absolutely no income for their first six months of joblessness. Young people whose families cannot or will not support them (and yes, this really does happen) are going to find themselves dependent on charity – which is itself dependent on enough people having enough spare resources to donate. We will see, inevitably, a rise in homelessness, as most landlords won’t be understanding of a six-month rent-free period, and we are also likely to see a rise in the crime rate, as people have nowhere else to turn. (Aha! Finally I see it – this is a job creation strategy! Law enforcement jobs will be on the rise!)
This, too, will have enormous costs to the community, both in terms of treating and helping the victims of crime, and, frankly, of the futures stolen from those who commit them through no other choice. A criminal record is not generally considered a good addition to one’s CV when job hunting.
Setting aside all ethics (as, indeed, this government appears to have done), this budget may possibly decrease our debt today, but it does so in the most dishonest way possible.
We are saving money today by borrowing from the future, and the interest rates are going to be high.