26th January 2021
More than 100,000 people in the UK have died as a result of COVID-19, according to the latest official figures. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, claims that the government have done everything in their power to save lives. That is not true. At every stage of the pandemic the government have made decisions driven by economic imperatives rather than public health concerns.
The government dithered initially about locking down the economy; failed to set up an effective test, trace and isolate system; gave out optimistic signals that Easter, Summer then Christmas would be the point at which the death toll would slow down and the government would ‘control the virus’.
Mask wearing took months to become the norm, schools re-opened in September and, along with the impact of the summer Eat Out to Help Out scheme, saw the beginning of the second spike in infection rates. The furlough system has been a lifeline for some but many more still cannot access support other than through Universal Credit. Even there the additional £20 which the government provided to help the most vulnerable is in danger of being withdrawn at the end of March.
Thousands of jobs are being lost with 25,000 in the retail sector alone this week. On the day the death toll crossed the 100,000 line the highest unemployment figures in the UK for five years were announced, with 418,000 people losing their jobs in the last year alone. That is not a coincidence, that is negligence on the part of a government that can neither protect the population through its public health measures, nor sustain the economy it claims it is doing its best to protect.
The inept test and trace system fails fundamentally because people in a zero hours and low pay economy cannot stay at home and self isolate, for the simple reason that they cannot afford to do so. Unless the government addresses this fundamental issue infection rates amongst the poorest communities will continue to rise.
The highest death toll in Europe, the fifth highest death toll in the world. What has happened in the UK over the past year is a national scandal. The government’s response has not only failed to tackle the issues at the core of the rising rate of infections but at every turn has compounded them, resulting in thousands of unnecessary deaths.
It is ironic that Johnson’s Brexit campaign rhetoric placed so much emphasis upon the UK taking back control of its borders. Any measures to actually do this, which may have helped stem the flow of infection through minimising cross border traffic and quarantining visitors, have only been under consideration in the past week.
The light at the end of this very long tunnel is the vaccination programme. The government will try to milk whatever credit it can from the fact that the roll out is, at present, reaching thousands every day. That this is good news cannot be denied, although Big Pharma will no doubt see a profit, but it should not get the Tories off the hook.
The virus has been catastrophic for working class people and their families. It has hit working class communities the hardest. Its long term effects in both health and economic terms will stay with the working class for longer and recovery will be slower. Recovery for employers will mean maintaining low pay and trying to maximise profits, given the additional pool of labour created by the crisis, the additional numbers desperate for work.
This is the very nature of capitalism, exposing the Tories’ protection of their class, their interests, at the expense of those who are the real wealth creators. The wealthiest have not lost out in the pandemic nor have they been made to pay their share. The working class have suffered over ten years of austerity, paying off the gambling debts of bankers following the 2008 crisis. It is time for payback, in every sense.