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Wildcat strikes: 'I understand the anger'

On Sunday 01 February Andrew Marr interviewed Alan Johnson MP

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Health Secretary and former union leader Alan Johnson says foreign workers should not be brought in on 'dumbed down' terms and conditions.

Alan Johnson MP
Alan Johnson MP

ANDREW MARR:

Now from survival of the fittest to survival of the rest of us. This week, the Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, will launch the Government's National Dementia Strategy, which it's hoped will transform the treatment of 700,000 people in the UK who suffer from Alzheimer's or similar diseases. Mr Johnson, a former postman and trade union leader, is grappling with a lot of problems from health spending to mixed sex wards, and he joins me now. Good morning.

ALAN JOHNSON:

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's start with the dementia strategy. When do you look at the raw numbers of people with dementia in this country, I suppose it's simply because of the ageing population but it's astonishing.

ALAN JOHNSON:

It is and it's happening around the world. It is an astonishing increase. And the problem with dementia is firstly there's a stigma attached to it - people don't like to talk about their problems - so as a result, on average it takes three years for someone with dementia to actually go and get diagnosed. And also it's a bit like cancer was twenty years ago. It wasn't the subject of polite conversation. But, unlike cancer, there's also some pretty cruel humour attached to dementia and Alzheimer's, which is a form of dementia, so actually removing the stigma, raising awareness, getting early diagnosis and better quality of treatment are the three key issues that the strategy is seeking to tackle.

ANDREW MARR:

But like cancer, there are potential therapies which can make a difference.

ALAN JOHNSON:

There are.

ANDREW MARR:

I mean you know there are drugs which clearly have an effect, but they're expensive.

ALAN JOHNSON:

There are. Well no, there's some inexpensive, pretty inexpensive drugs that can help to improve the memory. If you diagnose early enough - this is why it's crucial that we help GP's and we help to train them to spot the early signs of dementia - but if you diagnose it early enough, there are memory enhancing drugs. There are changes to diet and lifestyle that can actually alleviate the onset of dementia. So that early diagnosis is really important.

ANDREW MARR:

You say "early", but you only get the drugs, don't you, when you have I think it's called moderate onset of Alzheimer's.

ALAN JOHNSON:

That's one particular drug, which NICE have approved for the early onset of dementia. They're looking at that again actually with fresh guidance due in the spring.

ANDREW MARR:

So the message that you want to get across to people is go for early diagnosis, don't be frightened of getting to the doctor. And what about the local health trusts? What's the message to them?

ALAN JOHNSON:

Well I'll unveil all this package on Tuesday...

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

ALAN JOHNSON:

...to Parliament, but I saw in Middlesbrough on Friday at the Woodside Resource Centre the way that it ought to be working - a real effective partnership between the NHS Social Services, local government where they have these memory clinics where a GP can spot the signs of dementia, send them to a specific memory clinic where there are experts in every trust and in every care home showing leadership on this, so that they can actually get services to people much sooner. And often with dementia, the effects, the really traumatic effects are on the carers, are on the spouses or the families of the ...and so they need help and support as well and they need it very early.

ANDREW MARR:

Now, as you know, the NHS has been accused of "institutional racism" by Help the Aged. Clearly one of the things that is having to happen is a fairly major rebalancing of the NHS, am I right, towards older patients simply because people are living older, living longer and they've got more expensive conditions?

ALAN JOHNSON:

(over) Yes, yes, and that's already been happening. But what we're doing in the Equality Bill that my colleague Harriet Harman is introducing is outlawing age discrimination. This is a very big step to take because what you have to do, and you have to do it very carefully over a period of time, is to discern those areas where it's right that elderly people get priority - for instance flu jabs, it's right because of the medical consequences, medical evidence that you actually put a bias towards people who are older - because age discrimination works both ways obviously, so we have to tackle this very sensitively. But the days when you know a clinician would say well it's not worth operating or giving medication to that person because they're too old, I hope that's in the past.

ANDREW MARR:

So this is going to be expensive. Getting rid of the last mixed sex wards, which you've also spoke about recently, is going to be expensive. You've put through very, very large pay increases across the NHS and we are going into a serious recession. Is there a kind of rethinking about the financing and the future of the NHS in a big way because you can't afford to do all of this?

ALAN JOHNSON:

We can afford to spend around 9% of our wealth, of our gross domestic product on health. The scandal was the under-resourcing of health in the past. Incidentally, they're not spectacular wage increases, they're reasonable wage increases, but it's a three year pay deal - just as we've negotiated with the drug companies a reduction in drug prices of around 6% over the next four to five years. So those two things together are our biggest costs and they're settled and foreseeable and we can plan over the future.

ANDREW MARR:

But with welfare bills rocketing up, I mean the cost of unemployment shooting up - and unemployment's rising very, as you know very fast at the moment - bailing out the banks and all the rest of it, the Government is going to be very, very short of money and your budgets are going to come under unprecedented pressure.

ALAN JOHNSON:

But we're very clear about our expenditure in the spending review and in 10/11 we take spending in the health service up to around 109 billion compared to 35 billion when we came into government. The issue here, Andrew, two things. First of all, lots of things that we can do about prevention. Early onset of dementia, etcetera, vaccinating young girls against cervical cancer, introducing vascular checks for everyone between 40 and 74, which we'll introduce in April - they're all about prevention that actually will save money down the line. The second thing is we're not going to do what the previous governments did in the 90s and 80s recessions. What they did ...If you look at what happened, what they did is extend waiting lists and it took a long time to recover. They were already pretty long, but they went to people waiting two years for a cataract operation. They cut back staff and made staff redundant and they actually stopped or slowed the number of drugs coming onto the market. We're not going to do that. We're going to ensure we invest properly in health, including mental health because long-term unemployment can have very serious mental health effects.

ANDREW MARR:

Well just returning to the Alzheimer's point, is this going to be ring fenced money, for instance?

ALAN JOHNSON:

Well I'll have to announce all the money on Tuesday to Parliament, but this is a substantial slug of money going with the almost 2 billion we've put into older people's mental health services already over the last twelve years. And you know we've worked with the Alzheimer's Society and others to say what do we need to do, and I think the seventeen objectives that we've set out in the strategy will be widely welcomed and we'll have the money there to pay for them.

ANDREW MARR:

It's been said, there's been a lot of muttering inside the Labour Party that Gordon Brown has been left to take too much of the hit on the economy and that others, including yourself, haven't been out supporting him enough.

ALAN JOHNSON:

I'm out supporting him. Yeah, I've been accused of keeping a low profile.

ANDREW MARR:

That's right.

ALAN JOHNSON:

This is my low profile on the Andrew Marr Show. No, I think we all have to take the strain here in Cabinet. It's collective responsibility. It's a difficult time. We are all as one in that it's absolutely remarkable and commendable how Gordon Brown is tackling this issue. Not just the personal effects and the personal pressures on him, which he withstands better than anybody I know, but also the determination to get the country through this and to get the country through by helping people whether it's elderly people, whether it's the tax cuts we're introducing in April, right across the board to help this country come through this without recession turning into depression.

ANDREW MARR:

As a former trade union leader, do you understand the anger felt by those people on the picket lines up and down the country when they read about and see workers coming in from Sicily undercutting them, doing jobs that they could do? Lincolnshire's got very, very high unemployment at the moment.

ALAN JOHNSON:

The crucial issue that you mentioned was undercutting. I can understand the anger. That's why we've asked ACAS to look into this. If workers are being brought across here on worse terms and conditions to actually get jobs in front of British workers on the basis of dumbing down the terms and conditions, that would be wrong and I can understand the anger about that. And when I was a trade union leader, I used to say to my people time and time again the most effective way to conduct industrial action is through a ballot where you say you're going to have a ballot, you have the backing of the workers behind you as a result of that, and then you're in a far stronger position to resolve the actual issues at the heart of this. So I don't think wildcat strikes help in this situation. What we do need is a calm analysis of actually what's happening here because you know I don't think there's any way that the trade union movement have ever taken a view other than it's quite right for British companies to be able to go and bid for jobs and British workers throughout the European Union and it's quite right for that to be reciprocal. The free movement of Labour round the European Union has been something fundamental to the Treaty of Rome and fundamentally supported by trade unions who I have to say have been the major driving force against allowing jingoism and petty nationalism and protectionism to take root in this country.

ANDREW MARR:

And yet it seems because of new directives and so on that it is possible for people to come in on lower salaries than are being offered, lower wages than are being offered locally.

ALAN JOHNSON:

It's not new directives. What's happened is there's been a couple of judgements in the European Court that has suggested that some of the protections that were put there - for instance in the Posted Workers Directive - can be undermined. Now that is...

ANDREW MARR:

Which would naturally make people feel very...

ALAN JOHNSON:

Absolutely.

ANDREW MARR:

...very angry and upset.

ALAN JOHNSON:

That's why I say, Andrew, I can understand completely this is a matter of British workers being undercut. We need ACAS to tell us what the issues are here.

ANDREW MARR:

And if that's true, is there anything you can do about it as government?

ALAN JOHNSON:

Well I think we need to through Europe and sometimes you get these judgements. We've had the same thing in health with the so-called health passport where these various judgements have distorted the original intention and we need to bring in fresh directives to make it absolutely clear that people can't be undercut in this way. We must protect the terms and conditions, on health and safety in particular - crucially important at Immingham and other plants - and that we don't allow this kind of dumbing down.

ANDREW MARR:

So if it turns out that there is a problem here, a real problem, then the Government will get back on the case in Europe and try to do something about it?

ALAN JOHNSON:

Yes, as a result of those judgements we need to look again to make sure that our intention of this free movement actually being supported by workers themselves because it's reciprocal and it's not based on being undercut on your terms and conditions, that that original intention is firmly restored if they're jeopardised by those judgements.

ANDREW MARR:

And when Lord Mandelson for instance says you know people can go and work in Europe instead, that to a lot of people sounds a bit like Norman Tebbit saying, "On your bike".

ALAN JOHNSON:

No, but what's...

ANDREW MARR:

But perhaps less practical because they...

ALAN JOHNSON:

What Peter ...In some ways it's Auf Wiedersehen Pet - you know the ability for people to be working in other countries, skilled craftsmen and women that we have in this country that other European Union countries want to take advantage of their skills, that is great. And you know if actually in Italy there was a protest against a hundred highly skilled British workers going to work there with a British contractor to do a job that they've applied for through all the legal procedures, if they were stopped by the Italian government some of the people with the placards would be the first to protest that this was an outrage against British workers.

ANDREW MARR:

Looking at the last week or two weeks of polls and news and so on, you hear also back from Labour Party people that this is really the end; that the Government now knows that it can't possibly recover from the position it's got to.

ALAN JOHNSON:

Yes, well we heard that at various stages. Look, I'm old enough ...I even remember James Taylor first time around, so I've been around quite a while.

ANDREW MARR:

And you'll be meeting him shortly.

ALAN JOHNSON:

Absolutely - that's why I'm here, Andrew. You know I've seen all this come and go. In this particular situation, which the International Monetary Fund say is unprecedented in its effect across the world, it needs a steady hand, it needs a clear head, and it needs in a sense to just leave the polls over there and get the country through and that's what Gordon Brown's determined to do.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Well for now, thank you very much indeed Alan Johnson.

INTERVIEW ENDS


Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.


NB: This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy


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