Saturday, 5 November 2011

The winter 'flu jab - a parable of experience

I went this morning to get my winter 'flu jab. I'm not yet in a priority category (four years to go for that!) and I've never taken the step of having one before. But earlier this autumn I had a seriously nasty and prolonged chest infection and decided that I didn't want to risk another respiratory infection this winter.

The procedure at my GP surgery was that the Saturday morning clinic on 5 November would use up whatever vaccine they had left after priority cases had been done.

There's been quite a lot in the news about low vaccine uptake - repeated reminders to people in the vulnerable categories to go and get the jab. I had no idea how much vaccine they would have left at the surgery, so I arrived early to be near the front of the queue . . . and found the line already out of the door and into the street. And many in the queue were actually in the priority categories and were late responding to the letter they'd received.

So, no shortage of take-up here . . . but this is a nice middle-class little town, a lot university staff live here, and it's the sort of place full of the sort of people who know how to get the best out of public services.

While I was in the queue I was reading today's paper reporting on the 'new Jarrow marchers' arriving in London. They've walked 400 miles from Jarrow to Tottenham to protest against youth unemployment, as the figures get worse by the day. The original Jarrow March was in October 1936, a protest march against unemployment and extreme poverty suffered in North East England. The 207 marchers travelled from the town of Jarrow to the Palace of Westminster in London, a distance of almost 300 miles (480 km), to lobby Parliament. This new march left on the exact anniversary (1 October), but while the original march arrived in London on 31 October, the young people arrive today, 5 November, for a rally in Trafalgar Square and people are urged to support them by joining the for the last mile and the rally.

Since they started the march, the Occupy LSX protest ('LSX' stands for London Stock Exchange) has been at St Paul's Cathedral and widely in the news - another protest concerned with inequity. Today at 2pm they will be hosting a rally at St Paul’s Churchyard calling for a fairer, more just society and afterwards they will go to join the Jarrow marchers in Trafalgar Square. The only MP speaking at the rally will be Caroline Lucas from the Green Party - no Labour politican is standing up to support them; shame on them.

And what's this got to do with my 'flu jab? Well, it's too easy to point the finger - it's the bankers, it's the government, it's "them" . . . while ignoring the fact that we're all of  us deeply in hock to this unjust, and now unstable, system. While all this protest is going on, in the past few days the world leaders at the G20 summit in Cannes have failed to put in place measures to stabilise the Eurozone. It all seems rather remote, but our savings, pensions, and overall economic well-being are implicated. Those on the new Jarrow march, already disadvantaged, will be diproportionately further affected by the fallout from the problems of the Euro.

Politicians who want to court middle-class support by appealing to the 'squeezed middle' fail to be honest about the fact that the educated middle classes will still come out of the wreckage in a better position than the people taking part in - and represented by - the new Jarrow March. None of has clean hands - the Occupy movement's appeal to 'the 99%' must not be allowed to obscure the deep and significant differences among that 99% - as George Orwell pointed out (in Animal Farm, published in 1945): some of us are more equal than others.

And Quaker John Woolman, writing his Plea for the poor in the mid eighteenth century, said:
May we look upon our treasures, and the furniture of our houses, and the garments in which we array ourselves, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.

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