From the archives: an NHS worker’s response to the Tory MP who called people who pay tax “low achievers”

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The Canary is looking back at some of its most-read content, after we reached our 20,000th article. Here, in April 2016 we looked at an NHS worker’s response to a Tory minister. This article was read by over 300,000 people. 

Conservative MP Alan Duncan described those arguing for greater tax transparency and fairness in Britain as “low achievers” this week, and the powerful response from one NHS worker is going viral.

Olaya De la Iglesia, a community physiotherapist for the NHS, wrote the open letter and posted it to her Facebook page shortly after Mr Duncan made his comments on Monday. By Tuesday, the post had racked up nearly 700 shares and was being republished by new media outlets across the country. It’s not hard to see why. In it, she writes:

I heard what you had to say today about achievement and I would like to explain why I disagree in your interpretation of what a high achiever is.

I work for the NHS, I have done so since 2003. And currently I get paid £13£/hr to work as a community physiotherapist. I am, in your eyes, a ‘low achiever’ because I do not have wealth to stash off shore, but let me explain to you how I got here to qualify my assertion.

She goes on to explain that despite having 13 A-levels in Spain, she was unable to find work – and came to the UK at just 19 years of age to try to make the best of herself. She didn’t speak the language, and had to work a string of menial jobs while she mastered English in order to break into the higher ranks of the jobs market. She worked full time during the days, and spent evenings doing 3 A-level courses, as her Spanish qualifications were considered inadequate by employers. When that stage was complete, she kept on going:

I then decided I needed a variety of experience so became a Radiology Assistant. I then applied for University and on my third attempt I gained a place for the Physiotherapy training course (over 300 applicants for interview and 40 places, some very stiff competition). I completed it without any financial assistance from my parents in 2009, worked evenings (sometimes until 2am in A&E) and weekends as a Radiology Assistant and Physiotherapy assistant on top of the 1000 hrs of clinical practice needed. I got a high 2:1.

By the age of 32, she was looking to start a family, but didn’t want to restrict her ability to contribute at work and in the wider economy. So she used her two periods of maternity leave to study for an MSc in Psychology while growing and raising two children.

Read on...

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And after all this, she now earns just £13 an hour – and is not in a position to offshore funds in order to avoid tax. Which to Mr Duncan, earns her the label of “low achiever.” Her response?

Now you might ask, why do all this to only get paid £13£/hr. I will enlighten you. Because my measure of achievement is getting up every day to help people to walk to the toilet independently again. To be able to cut their own food and to leave the house without an ambulance to wheel them out of the house. My measure of achievement is helping a bilateral amputee to get out of his bed without a hoist, to wash himself and get out onto their garden with their wheelchair without their 75 year old wife having to push them over the threshold, because the local council does not have the funds or housing stock to provide a suitably adapted home. My measure of achievement is to be able to help a person regain control of their life despite suffering from unimaginable pain while there is no psychological support to help with their depression and anxiety. Or to keep a woman that has lived in the same house for 58 years, where she raised her children and saw her husband die, from having to ‘be put’ in a residential home because she has dementia, is falling every other day and her family can’t cope with the situation given the lack of social services support.

There are many professions in which the level of pay bears no relation to the level of training required, and the high social value resulting from the work. To measure a person’s success and attainment in pounds sterling, is to confuse wealth with value. Because we do not live in an economy where wealth and value are always, if ever, linked – regardless of whatever economic myths continue to be fed to people by those with a vested interest in keeping things that way.

Whereas a person like Olaya has developed themselves, the likes of the Prime Minister and Chancellor had their wealth and, to a large extent, their position, gifted to them through privilege of birth. They got an awful lot of ‘something for nothing’. This is why such people continue to make extremely poor decisions about public services, education, health and welfare – because they place no value on such services, having never been in need of them. As Olaya writes, this leaves public sector workers fighting on behalf of those dependent on their services:

Fighting for their quality of life and dignity in a system where the resources are ever decreasing, the demands for more never stop and true advocates are only seen at the front line of a war between financial interests and social need. And I can assure you these demands do not come from my patients, they come from a political class who have such sense of self-entitlement that they deem wealth as the only worthy measure of achievement for those that might want to stand for election to represent their ‘peers’. Yes, peers, because as I see it the current ruling party has a much in common with my peers, as bacon has with speed, and surely that needs to change.

Something truly does need to change. It might start with removing from power anyone who is unwilling to work in the collective social and economic interests of the country.

Get Involved!

You can sign and share the petition calling for a General Election in 2016 by clicking here.

Join the People’s Assembly “March For Health, Homes, Jobs And Education” to demand the resignation of David Cameron on Saturday 16 April.

Featured Image via Olaya De la Iglesias/Screengrab

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