If you’re out of the loop on British news, here’s what you missed: everything is f***ed. Global factors like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and rising inflation are partly to blame, but the U.K. has been left in a uniquely bad position to weather those storms due to a decade of austerity measures, the impact of Brexit, and the Conservative government’s efforts to privatize any public service that isn’t nailed down. The National Health Service (NHS), which is particularly firmly nailed down, has been a primary target for privatization by way of gradual dismantling. NHS nurse salaries have fallen by at least 20% in real terms since 2010, creating a vicious cycle of nurses quitting and NHS trusts being unable to recruit enough replacements.
Nurses are among the workers walking out, voting to strike for the first time in the Royal College of Nursing’s 106-year history. But the struggles of the NHS are tangled up with a much larger machine of broken infrastructure. Cuts to social care have turned hospital wards into de facto care homes, creating a shortage of beds that has turned ambulances into de facto overflow wards. The resulting delays have led to people dying during the hours-long wait for an ambulance, with up to 500 excess deaths every week as a result of the strain on emergency care.
Meanwhile, postal worker strikes have left letters and parcels to pile up outside depots, where they’re chewed on by rats and foxes. Rocketing energy prices and food inflation have left many families facing a “heat or eat” dilemma. Rising interest rates have led to rent increases even as the housing market stagnates. Public transport is a mess. People are cold, hungry, and miserable. And Lisa needs braces.