Long Covid: less about health, more about politics?

Covid doesn’t grab British headlines these days.  Recent coverage instead picked up on heat-related deaths from July’s scorching weather.

Shame that there wasn’t more probing into that data set.  Because there was some good news.  The – deep breath now – age standardised mortality rates for England and Wales in the year to date are at almost their lowest-ever level.

That seems worth a bit of celebration, even if it is what you might expect with the pandemic’s passing.

But hang on, the Financial Times’s diligent John Burn-Murdoch has been able to dig a little more out of the government statistician’s recent mortality data.

He notes that excess deaths (i.e., those which exceed historically-based expectations), which were overwhelmingly attributable to Covid during the pandemic, are now increasingly non-Covid related.  

“Between July and December 2021, England recorded 24,000 more deaths than in a typical year, but only two-thirds of these could be attributed to Covid. And this year, less than half of the 10,000 excess deaths accrued since May were Covid-related. In total, there have been just over 12,000 additional non-Covid deaths across the two periods.”

Astute readers will no doubt be struggling to reconcile low and falling mortality rates with continuing excess deaths.  Among other things, it might have something to do with using the best years for the baseline.

Burn-Murdoch is particularly interested in the possible correlation between non-Covid excess deaths with growing A & E waiting times.    

All seems to be going well, until he leaps – perhaps a little too quickly – to a familiar villain, namely the government’s “… failure to address the failings of a chronically under-resourced and overburdened system”.

To be sure, the Socialist Worker was fulsome in its praise.  And quick to argue for strikes in Britain’s National Health Service as a final solution to the excess-death problem (this might be sounding a little more relevant to New Zealand readers).

But really, has there ever been a time when a free health system has not been “chronically under-resourced” and overburdened by its patients.

Before drawing a single striking conclusion from statistically-based calculations during an abnormal public health event with data attribution challenges, it might just be sensible to look a little more closely at the flexibility of the health system’s response in switching resources during and after the pandemic; and examining just how much of the continuing excess mortality is due to the delay and even cancellation of other treatments during the pandemic. Burn-Murdoch has an honourable record in this line of work.

It might be that the health business is one of many in which degraded service quality is symptomatic of policy-driven lack of flexibility and loss of productivity.

Which would have worrying implications for everyone.

In times of rising living standards – like those pre-Covid years – we all too easily forget that this benign state of affairs depends on us all getting more productive in our job; or, if we don’t, losing it and getting another; and then making sure our children get even more productive jobs than we had.

In most places, it seems to be dawning that something went wrong with this during the pandemic.  

The next shoe to drop is that adjustment to the new reality is necessary.  And it’s not feasible in the long run for the government to pay us for work we have not done and compensate us for changes we need to tackle ourselves.

Sadly, Burn-Murdoch’s article also reminds us that no government has had much success applying this analysis to the health sector.  Even so, the gradations of failure are quite important.

New Zealanders facing some whopping price / quality adjustments (for example, those desperate to get out of the country) might also wonder if their government has been slower than most in twigging the need for adjustment. Better hope the Ukraine war does good things for commodity prices to support the always “chronically under-resourced” health system.

Deputy PM claims kudos for low unemployment rate – so who is putting up their hands for lift in jobseeker beneficiaries?

Deputy  PM  Minister Grant Robertson in  Parliament this week  claimed  full  marks  for the Ardern  government’s bringing unemployment down to  its  lowest rate in New Zealand’s  history.

As he  put  it:

“In the face of a one-in-100-year health and economic shock, it was this government that stepped up and provided the support for New Zealanders to stay in work, and today we stand here with the lowest unemployment rate in New Zealand’s history, at 3.2%. That means, though, in turn that there are 2.83 million in work today.

“We have under 100,000 people unemployed in New Zealand,  and that — at the end of a pandemic that has rocked people and has hurt some businesses and some sectors—is a remarkable result”.

True, according to the Household Labour Force Survey which provides us with employment and unemployment data each quarter.

But Stats NZ, in charge of the survey, acknowledges its shortcomings.  Among them: Continue reading “Deputy PM claims kudos for low unemployment rate – so who is putting up their hands for lift in jobseeker beneficiaries?”

Dyson gets gong for work for people with disabilities – but a blogger recalls what happened to sheltered workshop in Hutt

Ruth Suzanne Dyson, a former Labour Cabinet Minister, was among the recipients of Queen’s Birthday honours announced yesterday.  She is to become a Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services as a Member of Parliament and to people with disabilities.

But whoa there, says Lindsay Mitchell on her blog – Dyson deserves diddly squat

She recalled Dyson as …

The minister who forced the minimum wage on sheltered workshops in 2005.

She was warned about the effect but bullocked on.

Point of Order suspects Mitchell was referring to the repeal in 2007 of the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion 1960, which had exempted sheltered workshops and similar enterprises from affording their disabled clients minimum employment conditions, particularly the minimum wage.

Under the new legislation, employment opportunities for people with disabilities in segregated settings would continue, but wages would  be paid according to the work people did rather than the place where people worked.

Four years ago a RNZ Spectrum documentary examined the consequences of this repeal.  Continue reading “Dyson gets gong for work for people with disabilities – but a blogger recalls what happened to sheltered workshop in Hutt”

How Covid is working through markets: British Airways edition

Because markets clear supply and demand, abrupt shocks often lead to surprising outcomes.  Covid is a big market shock.  

An early example of the ‘I didn’t think of that’ genre comes from world aviation. British Airways is taking advantage of the collapse of air traffic to restructure its workforce. Continue reading “How Covid is working through markets: British Airways edition”

Nurses won lots of sympathy – but who says tax collectors are invaluable?

A press release from the PSA at 9:32 am  which advised IR and MBIE workers on strike TODAY.

WHEN: Today, Monday 23 July, 1pm – 3pm

WHERE: Various locations around New Zealand (see below)

WHAT: 4000 PSA members from IR and MBIE take strike action

The statement advised that PSA members at Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment “will reluctantly hold a second day of strike action today”. Continue reading “Nurses won lots of sympathy – but who says tax collectors are invaluable?”

Fair wage plans are upsetting for some on the left, too

Some business people are uneasy about Government proposals to introduce fair pay agreements. Far-left commentators – as it happens – aren’t too chuffed about what’s going on, either.

Their concerns are encapsulated in the headline on a weekend post at Scoop which shrilly warns: Labour government to extend bans on strikes

Beneath the headline, John Braddock, from the Socialist Equality Group, complains that New Zealand’s Labour Party-led government has “defrauded” voters by preparing to further restrict the right to strike for broad sections of workers when it overhauls the country’s industrial laws.

If you read on, you will learn more about who are the goodies and baddies in the formulation of labour market policy, as viewed through a Socialist Equality Group prism, than about anything  the Government wants to hide from us.  Continue reading “Fair wage plans are upsetting for some on the left, too”

Maybe a fair wage model is better found by taking a steer from Mainfreight

Workplace Minister Iain Lees-Galloway scored something of a political  coup when he enlisted  former PM Jim Bolger to head the Fair  Pay Agreement Working  Group   which will make recommendations on the  design of a  sector-level bargaining system.

Bolger thus has  a  key role in  shaping Labour’s policy on  “fair-pay” agreements.

It  is an understatement to say National mandarins were hardly chuffed by Bolger’s enthusiasm  for the  task.  National strongly opposes Labour’s plan which – in effect – turns the clock back on industrial  bargaining. Continue reading “Maybe a fair wage model is better found by taking a steer from Mainfreight”