An Analysis of the Greens’ Manifesto

The so-called “Green surge” predicted during this election has perhaps not seen a radical shift of the electorate towards their proposed “alternative politics,” but the Greens are definitely at their highest ever level of exposure after Natalie Bennett’s participation, albeit a fairly anonymous one, in two of the three main leaders’ debate. Indeed, the Green party of England and Wales are now the fourth largest party in the UK by membership, behind Labour, the Conservatives, and the SNP. [1] (you read that right, the Lib Dems are indeed now fourth in terms of party membership)

Will this be their breakthrough election though? Or are they only going to succeed in sapping the Labour vote and maybe losing them a few MPs? Regardless of how well the Greens do or do not do, their increasing political presence demands our attention, and thus our scrutiny.

I decided to have a good read of their manifesto to help me decide whether what they’re promising is viable – I’ve always seen the Green party as hopeless idealists that can peddle anything, simply because they have no hope of being in any position of power.

I was surprised to find some interesting, and dare I say well thought through, ideas in their manifesto, and it seemed like every other page they pointed me in the direction of something they had achieved at a local level (so maybe my earlier judgement of them never being near power was slightly harsh).

However mixed in with the good, were quite a few of the idealistic, ill-conceived ideas I was expecting. Below is analysis of the main problematic policies included in their manifesto (which is freely available on their website):

A complete rejection of Nuclear power, despite it being one of the best means of producing low carbon electricity

This makes absolutely no sense to me. Nuclear power, despite being expensive, is the best proven form of low carbon energy generation.

And yes, Nuclear power is a proven [2] means of generating low carbon electricity, I found it astounding that the green manifesto stated the following:

Nuclear energy is not green. Nuclear energy is neither zero carbon nor renewable and there is serious debate about whether it is even low carbon.

I don’t know what basis they had for stating this, but Nuclear energy has been proven a very low carbon source of electricity (on par with Wind and Hydro, and by some estimations better than Solar PV). Technically speaking you could say that Nuclear isn’t ‘zero carbon’ owing to the construction of the plants, and extraction of Uranium etc. but then again, neither are Solar, Wind or Hydro if you factor in Carbon produced during construction.

Nuclear fusion would undoubtedly be the best solution in terms of low carbon power, and I would argue that Nuclear fission, whilst imperfect, is a bridging step towards Nuclear fusion. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any mention of Nuclear fusion in the Green manifesto.

I think that in their single mindedness regarding Nuclear power, the Green party are missing out on massive potential for reducing carbon emissions relatively quickly (expect more on this topic from me in the near future).

A ban on all Genetically Modified Crops, and Organisms

I don’t fully understand the reasoning behind this, the Greens plan on banning the use of many pesticides, yet are also unkeen on GMO, which could alleviate many of the problems that pesticides do. Besides the fact that they could also make more effective use of land, freeing up more for devotion to wildlife that the Greens’ want to focus on.

The Earth needs to support an ever increasing load, with many predicting a food crisis by 2050. GM crops have significantly higher yields, so rejecting GMOs due to pseudoscience and unfounded fears is completely unhelpful in this regard.

Besides, we are all in essence already eating Genetically Modified Organisms – farmers have been selectively breeding livestock and crops for centuries.

Ensure that all schools, hospitals and other public buildings have solar panels by 2020

Of all the means of renewable electricity, I think Solar power is perhaps the least suited to our country.

When is electricity demand at it’s highest? In the Winter, when the weather is rubbish and the amount of daylight can be less than 4 hours a day [4].

The only way to ensure that electricity supply is reliable is to ensure backup supply for all solar panel installations, an incredibly inefficient way of producing electricity.

Surely tidal power (which provides a reliable and predictable amount of power) or Wind power (which can probably be used without full backups if enough storage capacity is installed) are much better alternatives than solar power considering our country’s geography and climate?

Phase in a maximum 35 hour working week

Implementing a maximum 35 hour working week has real potential to harm economy; what if someone wants to work over 35 hours a week? This is potentially a win-win for employer and employee as the employee gets paid overtime, and the employer gets much needed work finished.

Such a brute force strategy seems like a poor choice to me. Surely it’s better to ensure there are enough jobs available for people to choose a job based partly on which hours it requires? This benefits both the employer and employee, allowing people who would consciously choose to work more than 35 hours a week to do so.

Implementing a ‘Basic Income’ – an incredibly expensive policy

A corner stone of the Green parties long term plan is the introduction of ‘basic’ or ‘citizens’ income, everyone in the country would be paid roughly £72 a week by the government, with children receiving a reduced rate payable to their parent or guardian (presumably on top of child benefit, which the Greens are promising to more than double), and single parents, or disabled people receiving a higher rate. [3]

The greens plan for this to mostly replace the benefits system, and by their estimate this will save money owing to a reduction in administration costs, .

According to the greens:

EC731 The Citizens’ Income will eliminate the unemployment and poverty traps, as well as acting as a safety net to enable people to choose their own types and patterns of work

I’m not entirely sure why they think this, as £72 a week is certainly not enough to live on, and is considerably less than the average UK wage.

The costings for this are incredibly sketchy, the greens have yet to release information on how they plan to fully cost this, but a rough estimate would put the cost at around £240 billion a year, more than the current welfare bill (including pensions). It has also been estimated by some that implementing such a scheme would disproportionally impact the poor, the current benefit cap for a single person is £350 a week, [5] significantly more than the £72 citizens income.

However this puts the greens at odds with themselves, they state:

When the Citizens’ Income is introduced it is intended that nobody will be in a position that they will receive less through the scheme than they were entitled to under the previous benefits system.

Apparently the implementation of such a system will save money, yet nobody will earn less than they did through the previous system, and a significant number of people will earn more then previously. Frankly, the idea of paying the wealthy £72 a week they don’t need is the kind of ridiculous policy the Greens’ have largely managed to shake off with this manifesto. The welfare system isn’t perfect, but it provides support for those who need it rather than wasting money on those who already have an abundance of it. This system will cost even more than a welfare system already widely-perceived as bloated, and hurt those on low-incomes.

As for addressing homelessness: you’re advised not to give homeless people money, but to give food and blankets. Many homeless people have severe problems with alcoholism, gambling and drug abuse, and giving them £72 to further these habits will help rather than hinder. More useful than just throwing money at these people would be to build more homeless shelters, and/or do more to address the root causes of homelessness. The citizens income’ is to homeless as a band-aid that’s been swabbed through dirt is to a wound – sure, it might make the problem somewhat less visible and give the impression of taking positive action, but in reality it will just make the situation worse.

Regardless, £72 is not enough to live on. The homeless would not be able to suddenly find accommodation, pay bills, pay rent and put food on their table with this paltry amount.

So, a quick recap: This well-intended but ill-conceived policy would leave those already on benefits out of pocket, give £72 a week to the fat-cat bankers the Greens’ are so critical of, and give the homeless enough money to facilitate alcoholism and drug-abuse, but not enough to actually live independently on. Colour me confused.

Plans to completely scrap tuition fees

This would be incredibly expensive to implement, consider there are currently more than 2 million university students in the UK [6]. The NUS estimates that the average amount university charge in tuition fees is £8,354 a year. [7]

So for 2 million students, that’s a cost of £16.7 billion pounds a year. Let’s say the government recoups half of that – that’s roughly £8 billion pounds we’re talking about here, a very significant sum of money. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Green party want to write off all outstanding student debt, costing further billions in the long term.

From my perspective student loans aren’t that bad, the repayment system seems very fair, even with a headline grabbing yearly fee of £9000.

You only repay 9% of what you earn over £21’000, to put that into context, if you earn £25’000 a year, that’s repayments of only £30a month, and if you earn £30’000 a year you only repay £67 a month.

I can probably agree it’s not ideal, but it hardly feels like an injustice, and considering the state of the public finances I think it’s hardly responsible to throw so much money away.

(for those curious, you can find much more information on the Government website regarding repayments https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/what-you-pay)

Raise the top rate of income tax from 45% to 60%

We have a wonderful example here in the form of France, which levied a 75% tax rate on its top earners. Whilst the tax did raise a small amount of money (around 260, then 160 million euros a year) it paled in comparison to the total amount of the French deficit (around 80,000 million) and was recently quietly killed by the very government that instituted it [8].

The problem with such a punitive tax is that it can dissuade investors and executives from investing, as well as encouraging emigration of the wealthy . The net effect could well have been negative on the French coffers – near 600 earning above the 800,000 euro threshold for this 75% tax emigrated from France in 2012, meaning at a rate of 50% (at the absolute least) 24 million euros of income was lost. [9] In reality, the kind of people emigrating included Gerard Depardieu, a man with a $200million net worth. Therefore, even if you were discounting the effects of lost investment, it is apparent that any earnings from this tax would have been minimal indeed.

Massively increase borrowing whilst targeting zero growth

The green manifesto states quite clearly:

The plans in this manifesto require borrowing of £338 billion (in real 2015 terms) over the Parliament as compared with the Coalition’s plan in the 2015 Budget to borrow £115 billion.

£338 billion is a huge amount, especially considering the greens aren’t big on economic growth long term (an increasing debt burden can be bearable, providing the economy is growing at least in line with said debt burden).

Is it really reasonable to claim you stand for young people, whilst also stating you’ll rack up enormous debts that they, alongside future generations, will likely have to deal with at some point?

What’s more, is that a lot of the parties policies on the economy just don’t stand up. For example, the IFS recently questioned Labours plans to raise £7.5 billion from crackdowns on tax evasion. Considering this, the Green party plan to raise £30 billion from cracking down on tax evasion is downright ludicrous. It’s almost like they just picked a number to suit their spending plans.

Their new wealth tax too, is apparently going to raise £25 billion per annum. Considering France managed to raise (averaging the two years of their wealth tax) 0.06% this amount (also excluding loss of revenue from emigration and lost investment), you can colour me highly sceptical.

Plans to end Trident

This seems incredibly short sighted to me, especially considering the recent events in Ukraine.

The argument behind this seems to be that nuclear weapons won’t protect us from terrorists – whilst this may be true, there are still a number of threats that nuclear weapons would protect us from – look at the ongoing debate involving Iran. I believe that a nuclear deterrent is still surprisingly effective at deterring countries from declaring war against one another.

The diplomatic repercussions for this would also be massive. Would we still keep our seat on the permanent UN security council? Unlikely. Would our position in NATO – a nuclear alliance – be jeopardised? Likely. Would other countries be more inclined to listen to our opinions? No. Would it harm us diplomatically? Yes.

I feel that the electorate is incredibly exhausted when it comes to the issue of foreign policy, and understandably so after the fiasco of Iraq and Afghanistan, but does that mean that we should be frightened to act on the world stage? Or would we prefer to leave this to the US, China and Russia?

An economic case could also be made for Trident – the submarines are designed by a UK company, and manufactured in the UK, using somewhat high tech manufacturing gear.

In closing

In conclusion, I found some nice policy ideas, but unfortunately still plenty of the idealistic posturing that makes me so averse to the Green party. I still think they need a good dose of realism before they become a party I can really take seriously.

The Greens do seem more serious than in the past though, and some of their policies on Climate change (notably their policy on a nationwide insulation program), and the environment (notably on soil erosion) do stack up. Here’s to hoping their next manifesto is a bit more believable.

Sean Dunwoody


Sources

[1] https://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/2015/01/27/100-days-to-go-membership-of-the-green-party-of-england-and-wales-passes-50,000/

[2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00472.x/full

[3] http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

[4] www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/actualmonthly

[5] http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/benefits_w/benefits_the_benefit_cap_e/the_benefit_cap_what_you_need_to_know.htm

[6] https://www.hesa.ac.uk/stats

[7] http://www.nus.org.uk/en/advice/money-and-funding/average-costs-of-living-and-study/

[8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-france-supertax-idUSKBN0K11CC20141223

[9] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-say-au-revoir-to-france-over-two-million-french-people-now-live-abroad-and-most-are-crossing-the-channel-and-heading-to-london-9788348.html

Hillary Clinton – A Force for Change or More of the Same?

Hillary Clinton announced on Sunday what everybody knew had been coming for months: she would be standing as a presidential candidate for the democrats. As many political commentators are crowing, this was more of a coronation than anything else, for there is simply nobody else with the clout within the party that would appear to be running. Neither does there appear to be any dangerous outsiders joining the race; there will be no Obama-esque figure to thwart Clinton this time. Considering that Clinton will almost certainly be the democrat candidate that ends up driving their push for another stint in the white house, it’s worth exploring the highs and lows of the career of a woman who may end up as the head of state of our most prominent ally.

The Good

  • Following the US’ first black president with its first female president would be a clear sign of progress in contrast to much of the socially regressive rhetoric of the Republicans. Moreover, her policies do show a focus on gender-related issues, and she has been an active campaigner for women’s rights since the 90s
  • Clinton previously campaigned for health reform when her husband was in office, so it is hoped would continue to tackle the shambolic US health system
  • Has promised action to redress unfair elements of US society, such as increasing the minimum wage (the federal minimum is just $7.25/£4.93 an hour, although many states pay higher)
  • Favours achievable targets relating to gun control, such as outlawing assault weapons
  • Back in 2001, she called for the abolition of the electoral collage frequently criticized for being undemocratic, with Clinton instead favouring a president elected entirely based on the popular vote
  • Is committed to combating climate change, unlike many of her Republican opponents – Clinton is committed to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol committing nations to reduce their emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases
  • Has urged more financial and military aid be sent to Ukraine

The Bad

  • Hillary Clinton is far closer to Israel than her predecessor, who has become increasingly infuriated with Israel’s diplomatic blunders and recent denouncement of the Iranian nuclear deal. Clinton would represent a move towards closer ties to Israel, and thus provide further protection for continued Israeli injustices – she herself supported the creation of the Western Bank Barrier
  • Voted in favour of the 2001 USA patriot act, and has also remarked that human rights are secondary to national security
  • Previously showed a lukewarm approach towards gay marriage, only conclusively “coming out” (hurhurhur) in support of gay marriage in 2013 (sadly coming out in support of gay marriage is the closest you’ll get to a presidential candidate coming out in this generation of US politics)
  • Criticized Obama in 2008 for supporting Iranian negotiations, only to later voice support for the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal
  • Voted in favour of the Iraq war only to later criticize US involvement
  • Formerly supported the Cuban embargo
  • Weak track record as secretary of state, particularly in her “new slate” approach to Russia that the Republicans have gleefully jumped upon in light of events in Eastern Europe
  • Criticized Edward Snowden as a traitor and terrorist, but nevertheless sees no hypocrisy in winning cheap points by making vague statements about how NSA surveillance made people feel “betrayed”

The Ugly

  • Famously refused to concede defeat to Obama when this was obvious to all by invoking memories of Robert Kennedy’s assassination
  • Signed an act making flag burning illegal
  • Blasted Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games as “a major threat to morality,” despite all research into this area showing no link between violence and playing violent video games
  • Was embroiled in a scandal earlier in the year due to her usage of a private email account whilst Secretary of State to withhold documents from the State Department

Conclusion

Hillary Clinton would definitely be preferable to some of the frankly dangerous candidates the Republicans are fielding, however she herself is much more of a moderate than she is a reformer.

That’s not to say that she is not genuinely committed to some level of reform. Conversely, she appears ready to tackle some of the most pressing issues that the US people are facing – a low minimum wage, stalling progress in the fight for women’s right, a health system that doesn’t work for the people, and an inability amongst the political elite to take responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.

However, how radical are many of her “reformist” notions?  Her policies on gun control, whilst having the advantage of being realistic, don’t actually propose anything as radical as real, effective management of the distribution of firearms. A federal minimum wage of $7.25 demands reform. Whilst many of her other past attitudes, such as in ratifying the Kyoto protocol and reforming the US health system, are admirable, they are also hardly a radical departure from fairly standard democratic principles and policies, nor a departure from those of the current president.

Moreover, Clinton has shown a lack of integrity on important issues that simply cannot be ignored: She has contradicted herself on the Iranian nuclear deal, on same-sex marriage, on the Iraq War. Her attitude towards creating a fairer American society is at odds with her defence of one of the world’s greatest injustices in the annexation and segregation of the Palestinian people.

Outside of these inconsistencies in policy and outside of her sometimes borderline-Machiavellian pragmatism, Clinton has spoken consistently in favour of measures that range from regressive to just downright bizarre. Be it her unclear position on the surveillance of the NSA, her unfounded scaremongering on the societal effect of violent video games, or her chest-thumping jingoism on flag burning, all of these oddities reveal a figure who still overall speaks in the language of the current US political class.

Despite this, she would still be my preferred choice for US president when the competition features the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Based on the current crop of hopefuls, she undeniably is the best hope of any kind of real progress – but that is faint praise indeed.

Conor Dunwoody


Sources (I’ve only linked to the more obscure points I’ve raised)

On potential for Obama to be assassinated – http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyharnden/3659451/Hillary_Clinton_Maybe_Barack_Obama_will_be_assassinated/

Support for Western Bank barrier – http://www.haaretz.com/news/sen-clinton-i-support-w-bank-fence-pa-must-fight-terrorism-1.173922

On the abolition of the electoral collage – http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hillary-calls-for-end-to-electoral-college/

On Ukranian aid – http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/hillary-clinton-ukraine-aid-military-financial-114462.html

On Violent Video Games – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/news290305clinton

On Edward Snowden and the NSA – http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/feb/25/hillary-clinton-people-betrayed-nsa-surveillance-edward-snowden

On Flag Burning – http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/28/washington/28hillary.html

Foreign Aid, International Markets and UKIP

Nigel Farage recently promised UKIP would slash our annual £11billion budget for foreign aid by £9billion. On the face of it, this may seem tough but fair – why help those outside the UK when we have a rising level of children living in poverty, a strained NHS and a struggling middle class?

It is briefly worth noting that foreign aid is unrelated to the EU, which UKIP of course see as the source of all our ills. Rather, the tyrannical oppressor here is the evil empire of the UN, which has set targets of 0.7% of GDP to be spent on foreign aid. Currently, our spending on foreign aid is just shy of this target, and has increased by over 0.1% in the past two years. Interestingly enough, every other major party leader in the UK is committed to reaching this goal of 0.7% spending on foreign aid. Why, then, do we see such a commitment to foreign aid, even from the conservatives so well-known for their attitude of self-financing? Moreover, why would the cut-happy coalition not just continue spending in this area, but actually increase it whilst preaching austerity?

There are all sorts of arguments for foreign aiding rooted in a moral perspective, and ones that I’d agree with. These range from our culpability as a former colonial power to our responsibility as a strong nation to help those less fortunate. Also of importance here are the potential diplomatic ramifications that would resulting from severing aid with the third world.

However even from a perspective solely of self-interest, Farage’s ideas are illogical, dangerous and wilfully misleading. A breakdown of how we spend our foreign aid budget is telling here. 22% of our 2011-12 bilateral aid budget (bilateral aid being aid sent directly to foreign governments) was devoted to health, which includes spending in aid of stopping the spread of HIV, malaria and more recently Ebola. An example of how the DFID (Department for International Development, who spend 88% of our budget for foreign aid) use their funding is the £7.5million Emergency Ebola Response Fund. Stopping the spread of diseases such as Ebola and HIV can be important for a number of reasons:

  1. Stopping the spread of particularly virulent diseases such as Ebola reduces the potential for this disease to spread to the developed world
  2. Diseases such as malaria, HIV and Ebola can wipe out huge chunks of developing populations, which has a negative effect on these economies and thus limits potential growth for the international economy
  3. One thing Farage recently complained about was foreign nationals coming to the UK for free treatment of HIV – many of these are asylum seekers, and if a more concerted effort was taken to eliminate diseases such as HIV in the developing world, this would not be a problem in the first place

Also included under health is “reproductive, maternal and newborn health,” which accounted for 6% of our bilateral aid spending in 2011-12. This kind of spending reduces family size in developing countries, and can be seen to great effect in Bangladesh, which has seen the crude birth rate fall from 47 (per 1,000) in 1970, to 35.1 in 1990, to 20.3 in 2012. Smaller family sizes and stabilising populations are key to the development of such economies, which is one reason why we invested £18.6million into improving Bangladesh’s “reproductive, maternal and newborn health” in the period 2011-2.

In fairness, UKIP have committed to token investment in health-based aid on their ever-changing list of policies. One focus of foreign aid that is key and not referenced as sacred enough to avoid cuts on UKIP’s online list of policies, however, is education. The importance of investing in education is reflected in our spending on foreign aid; of the £4.2billion the DFID spent on bilateral aid in 2012, 11.3% went into education. Last year, this figure had risen to 13.4%. Education is important to help developing countries produce skilled workers that can drive forward their economies, thus resulting in more developed trade partners for our country. £44million was invested in Bangladesh’s education system in the period 2011-12, with the DFID concluding that this had led to more girls enrolling in school, as well as improving net enrolment in primary education.

The third and final area of foreign spending I would highlight is wealth creation, which accounted for 13.2% of our bilateral aid budget in 2011-12. Put simply, wealth creation is the idea of accumulating assets that will generate income and thus stimulate economic growth, and much of our spending on foreign aid has gone into creating the infrastructure to allow wealth creation in developing nations. Our investment in this area in 2011-2 was matched by spending 9.6% of our bilateral aid budget in creating “global partnerships.” This is vital to producing more developed trade partners, and an example of wealth creation out of self-interest can be seen through the billions the US poured into the European economies after the second world war via the Marshall plan. Frankly, to not invest in these countries in the short term will be detrimental to the long-term health of the international market, with these nations representing untapped potential for growth. The justification for spending £57million on wealth creation in Bangladesh from 2011-12 was “supporting private sector development, jobs and skills, as the foundation for more sustainable, equitable and higher growth and development over the long term.” Perfectly reasonable justifications, but who needs those when you can just use scaremongering tactics to appeal to base populism?

UKIP are nothing if not short-sighted, however, and this is epitomised through the fact that £240million of the DFID’s bilateral aid budget for 2011-12 went towards prevention of climate change, which obviously benefits the UK as much as anybody else. I won’t bother exploring this point in detail as UKIP don’t subscribe to the idea climate change to begin with, promising amongst other things to end subsidies for green energy and close down the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Parallels can nevertheless be seen in UKIP’s attitudes to climate change and their attitude towards the developing world, though, with both short-sighted in the extreme. After all, why create a better future for the next generation when you can just line the pockets of this one?

It is thus abundantly clear that UKIP’s rhetoric on foreign policy is not just divisive, but also misleading and dangerous. Their approach to foreign aid would represent not just a rejection of moral responsibility, nor just a diplomatic blunder. More than that, these proposed cuts are part of a tunnel-vision approach to the global economy that would stunt future economic growth, and in doing so hurt us along with the nations denied aid; any short-term savings we might gain, already negligible in the grand scheme of government spending, would be inconsequential considering the damaging long-term repercussions of failing to invest in the developing world.

Conor Dunwoody


Sources

UK party leaders consensus on meeting foreign aid targets – http://www.bond.org.uk/blog/23/turnupsavelives-cross-party-consensus-continues

DFID mandate – https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-development/about#what-we-do

DFID Ebola spending – https://www.goalglobal.org/DEERF_Sierra_Leone_applications

2011-12 and 2011-12 foreign aid spending –

(1) Broad overview: http://www.ukan.org.uk/aid-quantity/uk-aid-breakdown/

(2) Detailed analysis, including individual aid to countries such as Bangladesh:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67353/Annual-report-accounts-2011-12.pdf

2014 DFID spending – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/403381/SID-2014-revised-UNDP-figure-feb15.pdf

Bangladeshi Birth Rates – http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/bangladesh_bangladesh_statistics.html

UKIP policies on foreign aid and climate change – http://www.ukip.org/policies_for_people

HIV, Immigration and the Real Cost of Health Tourism

In the recent leader debates, UKIP leader Nigel Farage highlighted that over 60% of the 7,000 HIV sufferers in this country are foreign nationals, using this as an example of how the open-door immigration has led to a strained NHS. Condemnation amongst the other party leaders was universal, however polls have since revealed over half of the public agreed with Farage’s comments. So, is there any weight to his claims?

It’s first worth noting that the actual cost of health tourism is estimated at £70-100million per year, with the £2billion figure thrown around on the debates a misrepresentation. The £2billion figure accounts largely for groups such as asylum seekers, migrant workers and international students – it should be noted that the last two groups positively contribute to our economy.

The cost of treating the 4,000+ HIV positive foreign nationals (note: not health tourists) Farage took a shot at would be £10.5million per annum on his (exaggerated) estimate of treatment at £25,000 a year. Most estimates for the cost of treatment per year fall within £15,000-20,000, which puts the figure at more like £7.5million per annum treating these patients. In the grand scheme of the £110billion budget the NHS has, nothing more than a drop in an ocean.

Most importantly of all, treating HIV reduces its transmission, thus saving spending more money treating more sufferers. Or that’s what a little organisation known as the Department of Health would argue, anyway – I’m sure Farage would accuse them of failing to share his bigotry on the grounds of “political correctness.”

So, on moral and practical grounds, treating these people is certainly not a case of “wasted” money. Health tourism accounts for (at most) 0.1% of total NHS spending, and spending on foreign nationals afflicted with HIV accounts for a minuscule 0.01% of total NHS spending. Choosing a disease that is still stigmatised, especially amongst the homophobic elements amongst UKIP’s core audience, should also be condemned – this is not the first time Farage has picked on HIV sufferers to illustrate a point, and it begs the question of why he doesn’t pick on a group such as cancer victims. Regardless, Farage’s comments are nothing more than UKIP shoehorning immigration and the EU into yet another debate when there are much more important issues to be tackled.

Conor Dunwoody

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