The NHS is a tool of authoritarianism │ Jake Scott

Provocative title aside, I like the NHS in principle. The desire to care for our fellow citizens is extraordinarily commendable, and it is one of the ultimate expressions of our Judeo-Christian heritage – but the NHS, as with most principles, has been twisted by politicians with an agenda.

Whenever we discuss the consumption of most food or drink these days, the NHS is always mentioned in the same breath, usually along the lines of “and it places a strain on our health services”. When the Smoking Ban was first introduced, it was claimed that smoking placed a greater strain on the NHS in terms of cost than it produced in terms of tax revenue; fifteen years later, and the same argument is used for the Sugar Tax, first with sugary drinks, now with so-called ‘Freak Shakes’, and even now for the most staple of diets, meat.

Now, I’m hardly a hedonist, but it seems to me that these products are targeted by campaigners and activists for the simple reason that they do not like them. And since they do not like them, neither should anyone else; this strange new breed of puritan has, however, a tool no puritan before them could ever have hoped to wield. Since the government has made the health of its citizens its top priority –indicated by the fact that the NHS occupies 7.5% of GDP, and the cost has rocketed to £122,000,000,000 – should a campaigner be able to justify their authoritarian measures as threatening the affordability of the NHS, well, that’s the case shut.

It is not to say there are no moral arguments in this debate – but the faster we abandon them in favour of utilitarian, cost/benefit analysis arguments, the faster we slide toward the legalisation of previously unimaginable vices. And nor is it to say that these relatively minor vices aren’t just that – vices – but the blunt power of the state is not the way to alter their use. After all, regressive taxes such as the Sugar Tax only ever hit the poor hardest, and with the rising cost of living only increased by these taxes, it isn’t hard to imagine us returning to a dreary Victorian diet of boiled potatoes and vegetables.

Education is the only real tool against the vice of gluttony, because although education allows the consumer to make an informed decision, it is still just that; a decision, and one the government has no right to stop us from making. And in our daily lives, are we not allowed the odd indulgence?

Sugar is one thing, and it is a luxurious concern of the new puritans, but the NHS can be used for the advancement of more nefarious issues. Consider the Leave campaign in 2016; though it was not an ‘official’ policy, the NHS was used as a blunt instrument to beat the Remain campaign with. “We send £350m a week to the EU; let’s fund our NHS instead”. Quite. “We spend £22,933 a year on each prisoner; let’s fund our NHS instead”.

The point is this: when you make merely one government provision occupy as much as 18-20% of public spending, you begin to justify political decisions against the principle of that provision. If the NHS benefits or suffers from a particular policy, then that policy will live or die by its impact on the NHS; immigration is one such concern, another is smoking, another is the legalisation of cannabis, heroin or other drugs the (apparently) unregulated use of which creates strain on the NHS.

If the NHS continues to occupy more and more of the government’s spending, then it will become the only metric by which political decisions can be made. And this opens the door to a very strange, very modern authoritarianism, one in which public policies are dictated by health concerns, and tax policies are dictated by health funding necessities – necessities that only ever increase.

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