It will probably have come as a considerable surprise to some of those in retirement in my constituency to learn that national statistics show that while there has been a 6.5% drop in living standards for those in work, there's been an uplift for those who have put their working life behind them.
For a constituency such as mine, the income of those in retirement as well as those in work on low earnings is eye-wateringly different from areas in the south. This is precisely why we need a public debate before the government goes snap on their current proposal to switch NHS funding from some of the most deprived communities to some of the wealthiest areas purely on the basis that they have, in those areas, more people over the age of 65.
There is already a debate about whether the winter fuel allowance of up to £300 (£200 for most households) is fair. My belief is that it should be rolled into taxation, so that it is assumed that individuals over retirement age have received it and then placed against the main taxpayers' liability. But when it comes to health spending, there are some very big challenges.
It is certainly true that as we grow older our need for healthcare also grows. It is also true that those who have lived their lives in the most difficult circumstances and experienced the most exhausting and challenging work places need healthcare the most. Simple numbers of people of a particular age tell us nothing about the condition of their health, the environment in which they live and the support systems they can afford to pay for.
Those in our most heavily industrialised areas have suffered grievously not just from the nature of the job they undertook, but also of the health hazards that they faced. The longevity statistics bear this out starkly. For instance, you are, as a woman, likely to live to 87 in east Dorset but just to 79 in Manchester. For men, it's even worse – for that same coastal area of the south the male life expectancy is 83, but just 74 in Blackpool.
The question on this funding change is: why? A question that seems to be passing the politicians (and, sadly, officials in NHS England and the like) rapidly by!
Is it that they are under direct instructions from their Conservative masters (sadly with the collusion of Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem junior health minister) to redistribute money not on the basis of need but on the basis of numbers?
Take just a couple of examples of the funding switch, which has been put out to consultation. As Nick Brown MP pointed out in the House of Commons earlier in the autumn, the Department of Health is now consulting on taking £230m out of the budget for the north east and Cumbria. Draft figures suggest Yorkshire would lose £416m and the north of England as a whole would lose £722m.
There are stark variations. While South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw would need to reduce spend by £149m, Thames Valley would see a growth in allocation of £148m.
We are, in short, sleepwalking into the most gross act of injustice and reinforcement of inequality in recent times. It makes the suppression of the Black report on health inequalities by Margaret Thatcher's government in the early 1980s seem positively benign. For this coalition government is about to take away tens of millions of pounds from areas currently struggling to make ends meet and to overcome historic disadvantage. This money will go into areas where yes, there are more people who are retired, but there are very many more people who are retired comfortably. They have support systems, with the income to buy in the kind of help that keeps you active, interested and alive. The statistics prove it.
In our guts, we all know it, but it is the least debated and understated pending active injustice of all the injustices of the last few years.
This further dislocation to planned spending comes on the back of the most disruptive restructuring of the health service in recent times – £2.7bn spent on revamping the layers of health management and a whole range of quangos including the largest – NHS England – as well as Health Education England and the Health Research Authority.
All of this at a time when the NHS is under the most enormous pressures and when every penny counts. Taking away from Peter to pay Paul, especially when it transfers from the less well off to the better off, cannot be justified at the best of times – but should be unthinkable in the present period of austerity.
Given that this is also mirrored by the switch of resources away from the most deprived communities in eye-watering reductions in government grants to local authorities for essential public services, and the picture is extremely bleak.
Exacerbating the north-south divide is the exact opposite of One Nation politics, but it can only be presumed that those advising David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt have calculated the political gain in key constituencies in May 2015 at the general election.