Beyond Plan B

24th October 2021

Chancellor Rishi Sunak – little help for working class expected in 27th October budget

The desire of the Tories to get the economy moving, a euphemism for keeping corporate profits high, continues to outstrip the priority they place upon saving lives.  This has been the pattern of the entire pandemic, as the recent Parliamentary report, Coronavirus: lessons learned to date, illustrates.

The report was published by the House of Commons and Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee, examining the initial UK response to the covid pandemic.

The 150-page Report contains 38 recommendations to the Government and public bodies, and draws on evidence from over 50 witnesses, as well as over 400 written submissions.

The Report was agreed unanimously by members of both Select Committees, which consist of 22 MPs from three political parties—Conservative, Labour and SNP.

In what has been widely seen as a damning indictment of the government’s handling of the pandemic the report highlighted some key areas of learning, namely that,

  • The forward-planning, agility and decisive organisation of the vaccine development and deployment effort will save millions of lives globally and should be a guide to future Government practice;
  • The delays in establishing an adequate test, trace and isolate system hampered efforts to understand and contain the outbreak and it failed in its stated purpose to avoid lockdowns;
  • The initial decision to delay a comprehensive lockdown—despite practice elsewhere in the world—reflected a fatalism about the spread of covid that should have been robustly challenged at the time;
  • Social care was not given sufficient priority in the early stages of the pandemic;
  • The experience of the covid pandemic underlines the need for an urgent and long term strategy to tackle health inequalities; and
  • The UK’s preparedness for a pandemic had been widely acclaimed in advance, but performed less well than many other countries in practice.

To date, deaths associated with the coronavirus in the UK stand at more than 150,000, placing the country in the Top 10 worldwide for total fatalities, according to World Health Organization data.

Penny Ward, an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor at King’s College London, has argued the report is self-congratulatory on the ‘success’ of the vaccine and of the foresight of the Vaccines Task Force, going on to state that,

“However,we have failed to ensure sufficient uptake of the vaccination among younger adults and teenagers and some higher risk communities,” she said, “most notably those of African heritage — which is at least one possible reason for the continued circulation of infection resulting in more than 700 hospitalisations and 100 deaths daily on average in the UK currently.”

A full Public Inquiry at some future date has been promised by the government but the assessment at this stage hardly reflects well upon their handling of the crisis.

It would appear however that the critique contained in the report is little more than water off a duck’s back when it comes to the Tories’ response to the rising hospitalisation and death count.

Widespread scientific advice suggests that the government should be implementing its so called Plan B, which would bring in greater enforcement of mask wearing, a return to working from home and an acceleration of the vaccine booster programme.  Instead, the government continues with its blasé assertion that simply ensuring vaccination coverage is increased will be enough.  This is the case for England, which is out of step with the rest of the UK, where stricter measures are already in place.

The Tories latest tactic to divert attention from their mismanagement of the pandemic is to talk up the ‘positives’ which Rishi Sunak is expected to announce in the budget this week.  English regions getting £6.9 billion for public transport has been the recent big announcement, one which will allegedly contribute to ‘levelling up’.

Cutting VAT on energy bills has been widely mooted, as has an increase in the National Living Wage, though not to the Living Wage Foundation’s recommendation of £9.50 an hour.  Assistance for a small proportion of homes to instal heat pumps to replace gas boilers has already been announced.

None of which will address the £20 a week cut in Universal Credit to the most vulnerable, tackle the ongoing inflation crisis which will add to the costs of basic goods for ordinary families, or address the ending of the furlough scheme, which could add thousands to the unemployment figures.

The failure to implement more robust public health measures added into this mix will mean pressure upon the NHS building and the secondary impacts of Covid, longer waiting lists and operation cancellations, growing even further.

As the twin crises in public health and living standards gather momentum one government advisor, Prof Peter Openshaw, has said he feared another “lockdown Christmas”.  For the hungry, the homeless and the hard to reach it may not just be a case of being locked down but continuing to be locked out of access to the benefits and privileges that living in the world’s fifth largest economy should bring.

The key factor of course is the distribution of wealth within that economy and the comfort, wealth and security that being one of the privileged elite can bring, compared to the harsh realities of life for those at the sharp end.

The government may yet be forced into a U-turn and realise late, at it often has throughout the pandemic, that it needs to change course.  Plan B may yet become a reality but more extensive and more revolutionary plans will be needed, way beyond the pandemic, if the working class are to benefit fully from the wealth they create.

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