More life, less meaning

Sara Maitland committed an elementary philosophical blunder in her article on the afterlife ("Immortal longings grow again", 9 August). She claimed that the promise of an afterlife gives life meaning; that without it ordinary finite life is meaningless. But an afterlife is simply an increase in quantity. If an ordinary finite life is meaningless, then adding millions of extra years to it will be equally meaningless but longer.

Les Reid
Belfast Humanist Group

Julian Baggini should know that we don't use a ruler to "prove" the length of the same ruler (Letters, 23 August). Similarly with human consciousness, it is difficult to see how the extinction of consciousness after death can be "proved" when the only tool we have at our disposal for such a finding is consciousness itself - while we are alive.

Only an objective sideliner, uninvolved with brains, minds or consciousness, could ever know the truth of these things. Why not call such an observer God if the concept helps to make sense of things? Or at least allow others the unmocked right to do so?

Ian Flintoff
London SW6

This article first appeared in the 30 August 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Gordon Brown, the great feminist

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.