Rights or Privileges?

Wednesday, July 8th

Banksy's tribute to the NHS

Last weekend there was a further clap for the 72nd anniversary of the establishment of the National Health Service. It took a long, hard, political struggle to achieve a consensus in Parliament, but Nye Bevan fought for what he believed to be every Briton's entitlement. That belief was echoed later in the same year (1948) with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

In its preamble, the Declaration asserts: "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world," Like the creation of the NHS, this was no doubt a reflection on the end of a second World War and the sacrifices of the common people around the world to fight for what they believed was right.

So many people have fought for rights and equality over the centuries. People fought those in power in order to abolish slavery, to obtain the right to vote for working men and eventually for women. Despite those victories, however, and despite the vision of health care for all people and equal rights for every human being by 1948, the fifties saw Rosa Parks leading the bus boycott in the USA, Martin Luther King giving his life for the cause of black equality and Nelson Mandela enduring years in prison before apartheid and segregation were abolished.

Even so, in 2020, we still have the need for black people to fight for their recognition as human beings. And why do I find myself singing along with Garth Hewitt in his song, 'Palestinians are humans too'? Not to mention many First Nation people from Canada to Australia who still feel treated like second class citizens or worse.

Is the concept of every human being deserving equal recognition and rights so difficult to grasp? Jesus found this difficulty amongst his own followers and had to remind James and John that the 'greatest shall be the least' not just with a verbal rebuke, but with a practical demonstration of foot washing. The desire for power and dominance seems to be a fault line in the geological psyche. The desire to love our neighbours as ourselves seems to be a bridge too far for too many of us.

Regardless of whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer offers the young, the unemployed and the self-employed in his July statement today, it will not achieve the full vision to be found in the 1948 Declaration. 'Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security....has the right to work, ......to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. .....the right to equal pay for equal work...the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control'.

(apologies for the dated masculine terminology!)

I wonder how familiar any of us are with the text and the vision of the Un Declaration? 70 years on, we still have a fight on our hands to realise the vision of those who conceived it and also defend the NHS we cherish anew. But fight we must.

Rosa Parks in 1955 (Martin lLuther King in the background)

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