From the TUC

AIDS in a time of austerity

01 Dec 2011, by in Society & Welfare

World AIDS DayWorld AIDS Day is a special occasion for us in the TUC and in the global trade union movement, and this afternoon I will be speaking at the TUC event to mark the day – one of a series of trade union events all over the world. Around the world, unions are mobilising support for the implementation of the 2010 ILO Recommendation on HIV/AIDS and the World of Work, and drawing attention to the role that ordinary workers and their unions can play. Yet austerity is undermining the gains that we are making. We need to challenge that, reveal the impact of the cuts, and demonstrate that if we will the resources, we can win the fight.

Some 65,000 people had access to treatment and care for HIV in 2009 in the UK. About 28,000 or 43% were based in London. How are they going to be affected by the squeeze on spending? Will they be still entitled to the same amount and quality of care and support? What will happen to the voluntary sector that provides services for so many?  Will there be sufficient funds to expand testing, as recommended by the Lords Select Committee? These are pertinent questions that need answers.

Since the onset of the disease in the UK in the early 1980s, the TUC and our affiliates have been deeply concerned about its implications for the workplace. The global nature of the pandemic means AIDS in the industrialised countries and AIDS in the developing world poses different challenges, but for unions, there is always a workplace dimension.

That is why, from the start, unions here have focused on combating discrimination at work, as well as helping people to fight, and live with, the disease. And that is also why our submissions to DFID have drawn attention to the impact of AIDS on the workplace and highlighted the potentially crucial role that the workplace – and trade unions, in particular – could play in prevention as well as in fighting the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.

There has been significant progress in the fight against the pandemic throughout the world. Yet, in 2009, some 2.6m new cases were diagnosed.  The total number of people living with HIV/AIDS in North America, Western and Central Europe went up by about 30% in the same year. In 2010, some 3,800 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK. A House of Lords Committee Report published in September this year warned that the number of people living with HIV would reach 100,000 by 2012. Of course, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS does reflect the advances in the treatment and care, enabling people to live longer lives.

Nevertheless, we mustn’t be complacent. HIV/AIDS remains a killer disease with no cure in sight. It is a very serious public health problem. And it is certainly the greatest threat to development in many parts of the developing world. It has set the clock back by decades in sub-Saharan Africa where millions struggle to cope with its consequences. The disease is still spreading, mainly through the fault lines in society. It has had a disproportionately high impact on vulnerable groups – women, children, the LGBT community. Two groups – men having sex with men and members of the black African community – appear to be at highest risk of acquiring HIV in the UK. The stigma and discrimination associated with the pandemic has not gone away either.

After yesterday’s day of protest over pensions, and the grim news earlier this week about Britain’s economic prospects, many people are worried about the effect of Government spending cuts on public services available to those living with AIDS.

The trade union focus on the workplace resulted last year in the International Labour Organisation adopting a comprehensive Recommendation on HIV and AIDS and the World of Work. The Government must not stand in the way of its implementation at all workplaces, including those in the UK, and the TUC will play our part in helping trade unionists around the world implement the Recommendation in their workplaces.