Monday, 3 November 2014

UKIP and the man behind the green door

It is a house I walk past every time I walk to the tube station. Like my own house, it's a 1930s semi with bay windows at the front. Unlike my house, it still has the lovely original front door. And unlike my house, there is a poster stuck to the front window telling people not to deliver leaflets from any other political party because the occupant is voting UKIP.

I'd often wonder as I walked past who might live there. If I ever spotted the occupant in the front garden, would I have the nerve to ask them about the poster, to tell me what particular policies of UKIP they like so much? Would they eloquently defend UKIP? Would they end up telling me I'm OK, that I'm one of the immigrants "we like", which is always code for "white, native English speaker, not wearing a hijab"?

Today I got to find out who lives at the house with the cute green door. It was a humbling lesson.

I was doing my usual walk to the tube station, my attempt to keep vaguely fit and save Oyster card credit by foregoing a five-minute bus ride for a 15-minute walk, when I noticed the green door was open. I am a chronic sticky-beak so I took a peek. There were two builders standing in the doorway. Lying on the floor was an elderly man. He was pale, he was incoherent, he seemed agitated, he didn't appear to have all his clothes on even though it was a chilly morning.

The old man was clearly in trouble and the builders were desperately trying to get him on his feet. I asked if everything was OK. They told me they'd come over to remove his old conservatory, he'd struggled to answer the door and now he was on the ground. There was a nasty bruise on his forehead caked with dried blood.

I called the ambulance while the builders slowly got him on his feet, carried him to the sofa and covered him with a blanket, an attempt to restore some of the man's dignity. As I explained the situation to 999, I saw the house was a mess, it smelled of urine, soiled underwear was discarded on the kitchen floor, the peeling living room wallpaper was smeared with a large streak of dried blood, possibly from when he hit his head.

The paramedics arrived quickly and a neighbour who regularly checks on him turned up. More was revealed about the old man's life. The lovely neighbour said he is still quite active. The food in the fridge was still in date. His wife died last year at the age of 96. He is 91. There was a note from the council from a social services visitor who tried to see him last week because she was concerned about his welfare but there was no answer at the door. His family had visited him over the weekend. I wondered to myself why they didn't try and tidy up, maybe run a Hoover over the place or wipe down a few surfaces. Just as I'd made assumptions about the identity of the UKIP voter, I found myself judging people I'd never met.

By this time, there were four paramedics, two builders, the neighbour, the elderly man and myself at the house. We all tried to talk him into going to hospital to get the bump on the head checked out. He was not keen on the idea but in the end, he agreed to it. The paramedics did a spectacular job - caring, professional, patient - exactly the kind of people you'd want to treat you or your own elderly relatives.

And so, apart from popping into the council building before I got on the tube to update the social services department on the situation, my work was done. I'd like to think that anyone would have called the ambulance if they were confronted with the situation of an old man slumped in his own doorway. Please tell me society has not crumbled to such a point that walking on by would be the norm.

And my terrible curiosity about the identity of the UKIP voter was extinguished. The 91-year-old man came to the UK from Poland after WWII. Obviously, I did not choose that vulnerable, fragile moment in his life to ask him why he loves UKIP so much he put a poster in the front window.

I could have pointed out to him that if he arrived in the UK from Poland under a UKIP government, he would be forced to take out private health insurance and not be entitled to NHS care until he'd paid National Insurance for five years. I could have pointed out that there is nothing in UKIP's NHS policy that would prevent further marketisation of NHS services, which may one day result in us getting billed for ambulance journeys. Indeed, at St Helier Hospital, where he was taken, the non-emergency ambulances are already run by the stratospherically incompetent G4S and have caused a needless death.

But of course I did not do this. That would have been a dick move of gargantuan proportions. Instead, we should all be grateful we live in a country where he was treated promptly by highly trained, compassionate medical professionals and he did not receive a hideous bill for his trouble.

Unlike me, they had not spent any time wondering about the UKIP poster, or fighting an urge to knock on his door and ask him hard policy questions, or rolling their eyes at the thought of someone so keen on UKIP, they told the whole street about it via their front window.

They did none of these things. They simply treated him, without fear or favour, without making snap judgements about his politics, as they would any other patient who comes their way in the course of their working day. For that, I am humbled. We should all be vigilant in ensuring we can maintain this level of excellent care. I want to remain living in a country where medical treatment is not determined by wealth, immigration status or political persuasion.


  1. Hi, I couldn't fit what I wanted to say in a comment, so I've blogged a response instead lol. Please have a read:

    1. Thank you for the blog post. The additional hits it has generated here are much appreciated!

      But seriously, a few points:

      - I have been told on multiple occasions by UKIP supporters and anti-immigration types in general that I am an acceptable immigrant. The anti-immigrant venom currently happening in this country centres largely around certain nationalities and one religion in particular.

      - EU migrants pay £20b more in taxes than they receive. This is a fact. I wil be very interested to see how UKIP spins this one. The UK benefits more from EU migrants than it loses.

      - As an immigrant from Australia, I had to jump through all manner of hoops to live here with my British husband. It was annoying at times and not cheap but I am not resentful.

      - Benefits tourism is not draining our welfare system. The biggest cost to our welfare system is the old age pension because people are living longer. But nobody is going to make cuts to that, are they?

      - Health tourism is also largely a myth. It costs 0.06% of the total NHS budget. Sure, you can make a case for ensuring this 0.06% of funds is recouped by charging these people for NHS services but it won't do a damn thing to fix the NHS funding crisis. Only better management, less useless middle management on high salaries, a complete rollback of PFI and removing the marketisation from the NHS will do that.

      - In my blog post, I freely admit to making assumptions about who might have lived at the house with the UKIP poster. I was expecting someone younger and not from Poland - this was an incorrect assumption I made based on UKIP people I have encountered during local hospital campaigning. With one notable exception, they have all been white, middle-aged men.

      - I would still like to chat with my neighbour about UKIP as I am genuinely interested as to why people think the party has any real answers. However, I spoke to the other neighbour this morning who was presented when he collapsed - she was on her way to visit him in hospital. His condition was terrible on Monday and I am not surprised he has been kept in. The other neighbour, funnily enough, is a Bulgarian immigrant. I hope he appreciates all she is doing for him in keeping an eye on his house and making sure the mail doesn't build up!

      - As for the hypothetical health insurance question, I was posing the notion that if there was UKIP government here in 1945 when he came to the UK, he would not receive any of the NHS benefits he has received this week. Under UKIP policy, he'd have to pay private health insurance for five years on top of National Insurance, income tax and other assorted ways the government gets its hands in our pockets. How is that fair?

      - As for Spain and other EU countries, we have reciprocal arrangements with EU healthcare cards for when we travel. There are different health systems across the EU, all with their benefits and disadvantages. The Ashya King cancer treatment case was always going to end up as a political football and with the NHS funding his treatment, a sensible discussion needs to be had with government and NICE as to what this precedent means for cancer treatment in Britain. Can open, worms everywhere!

      - The NHS does indeed make money from people who come to the UK for specialist treatment. Not every foreigner getting treatment here is getting something for nothing.

      - Your most curious point is this: "UKIP doesn't have a particularly strong policy on the NHS, other than to keep it free at the point of use, whatever that takes." So why the hell would anyone who cares about the NHS vote UKIP? UKIP's NHS policy has changed wildly over the past couple of years, bending with the breeze of public opinion and populism. Why would anyone therefore trust UKIP not to backflip again on any of the current policies?

      I respect your views and your right to vote UKIP but you have not convinced me to do likewise.

  2. Which part of this nation is flat broke is it you people struggle with? Why do you hate British low skilled workers so much?
    The majority of people in this country are watching their wages plummet caused by over-supply of labour. The roads are packed, public transport overcrowded. The health service is buckling, it may need all sorts of things but it doesn't need more patients.
    I honestly think you people are mentally ill.

    1. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! And you really think UKIP is the answer, Anonymous Person Who Hasn't Got The Balls To Identify Him/Herself?

      Do you really think Nigel Farage's policies will help the working classes?

      This is the man who believes employers should pay staff whatever they want.

      This is the man who is garnering support in working class areas that are largely untouched by immigration.

      This is the man with no real job creation policies and nothing much else that has been properly costed either.

      And the health service still costs less as a percentage of GDP than the US system but with better outcomes. The problem with the NHS is not immigrants - we'd have even worse staffing issues without immigrants - but underfunding and mismanagement and money wasted on the marketisation and, of course, crippling PFI debt.

      And the main issue with public transport is not immigration but poorly run, expensive services run by the private sector.

      And for all Farage's Thatcher-loving ways, it was her mismanagement of the coal mine closures and destruction of the manufacturing sector that has deprived many working class people of employment. Basically, everything Germany did in the 80s to build up a world class manufacturing sector was not done in Britain.

      The biggest contributor to our welfare bill is not immigrants but old age pensions - this is because we are living longer. But no, please tell me how you'd love to go back to the good old days!

      But it is so much easier to scapegoat immigrants...

  3. No institution is perfect (be it the NHS or the EU), but both are (in my view) a net benefit to the UK. The increase in wage inequality in the UK over the last 30 years is little or nothing to do with immigration (immigrants are consumers as well as workers, so demand and supply of labour increases - this is basic economics). It's much more to do with the destruction of union power started by Margaret Thatcher. UKIP have made clear they would accelerate that process.

    UKIP seems to have metamorphosed over the last 20 years or so from a "get out of the EU" party into an anti-immigrant party. Given that the "English nation" is essentially immigrant in nature (from Angles and Saxons, Danes and Normans through Jews in the East End and the slaves who made Liverpool rich onward) the whole current premise of UKIP seems to me to be nonsense.

    You've already covered most of the other issues better than I could, so I'll leave it at that.