Why politicians can’t win: the postcode lottery

The postcode lottery. (This picture took two hours to make, after waiting for a lottery draw to come on TV so I could get the original image. You're right, it wasn't worth it.)

I’m sure there’s another series of posts to be had on the theme of “why politicians can’t win”, but here’s one reason to get things started.

We hear quite frequently about a “postcode lottery” in health, or education, or whatever other public service is in the media firing line on any particular day.

It’s outrageous, the message runs, that the government allows a situation to arise whereby someone in one area is prescribed a particular drug, or given access to a high quality of teaching, while someone in another area is left pleading on their knees outside their GP’s surgery for a prescription for the same drug, or given shockingly substandard teaching.

That’s certainly a decent enough viewpoint, but there’s no disguising the fact that it amounts to a call for much more centralised control of the public services in question.

Yet the people who play the “postcode lottery” card are often the same people who at other times will trumpet the benefits of “localisation”. The Tories are particularly keen on localisation at the moment, and in fact on Tuesday night they called on their council leaders to ignore central government requests for information and certain non-statutory activities. As Eric Pickles put it:

The time is overdue for Conservative councils to stand up to this bullying and controlling government on behalf of their communities. It is time for Conservative councils to just say no. […] We are not in the business of delivering ‘Labour Lite’; local priorities now must take precedent.

But if local priorities take precedent over central co-ordination, won’t we end up with a postcode lottery in which some localities prioritise some drugs while others prioritise others?

So if they over-centralise, they aren’t giving local people the power to have their own say over their lives, but if they devolve power they cause postcode lotteries. What are they supposed to do to win?


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