The People’s March for the NHS arrived in Hackney today, with marchers and supporters gathering in Clissold Park before continuing on through London to their final destination: Trafalgar Square.
It was the final leg of the 300-mile march, rallying against increasing privatisation of the NHS, which began in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear on August 16. Supporters lined the paths of the park to greet the marchers, a steel band played, crowds cheered and people danced in t-shirts emblazoned with slogans: “Born in the NHS”, “People’s March for the NHS” and “NHS SOS”. The weather was grey and damp but the mood was high, and the demonstrators brought a flash of colour to a dull September morning.
Diane Abott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: “Hackney people are campaigning people! There’s a great atmosphere out here today, and it’s such an important issue – saving the health service.”
Ellen Graubart from the Hackney Coalition to save the NHS said: “Hackney is very active in the protest and we have a wonderful team of people promoting it. I’ve followed the march online, I’ve tweeted it to lots of people and shared it on Facebook.
“We’ve been leafleting and had stalls around Dalston to tell people what’s actually happening with the NHS, because people are either ignorant or depressed about it, thinking there’s nothing that they can do. So we’re just trying to get people to realise that they can stop the worst from happening.”
Graubart was collecting signature for the Save our Surgeries group collecting signatures, trying her best to keep them dry in the September drizzle.
Since the beginning of the march, her group have received 20,000 signatures for the Save our Surgeries campaign. Online there are 138,000 signatures.
Amid the chants of “NHS – not for sale! NHS – not for sale!”, Michael Bramley, from Skipton in Yorkshire, said: “I came along today because the NHS is being privatised and I think the story that the country cannot fund it is false – if we reorganised our finances we could afford it. People on the margins of society will become ill, and will not get healthcare.”
Bramley also came down to the capital to take part in the Save the Lewisham A&E protests last year. “There are not enough people campaigning,” he said. “There should be more people out on the streets, more people should care about what’s happening, but the march today has given the cause some good publicity, so it’s useful for that.”
Sam Rushworth, a Labour Candidate from Blackpool, had also travelled down from the north to support the march on its final leg. “The march didn’t pass through Blackpool because it came down the east side of the country, that’s why I’m here today,” he said.
“This isn’t just the biggest pre-election march. It’s the biggest pre-election issue. People should be aware of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Initiative with the US. It’s the biggest threat to the privatisation of the NHS.”
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Initiative (or TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the EU and the USA, which critics say would increase corporate power and make it more difficult for governments to regulate markets for public benefit. The agreement could be finalised by the end of the year.
As Rushworth re-joined the march, backpack slung over his shoulder, he said: ‘It’s a very British thing to campaign – the whole of Britain is out here today!”
The march culminated this afternoon in a rally at Trafalgar Square, with speakers including Diane Abbott, musician and campaigner Billy Bragg and journalist Owen Jones.
The People’s March for the NHS was organised by a group of mothers from Darlington, the Darlo Mums, and followed a route through 23 towns and cities across the country in protest against as the increasing privatisation of the NHS and the effects of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Specifically, the TTIP is seen as a threat to the founding principles of the NHS.
Additional reporting from Rachael Pells and Emma Haw