In January I visited Zimbabwe, where I went to school in the 1950s. Zimbabweans were eager to find out about our country. How could I describe what a decade of austerity had done when we have free education, the NHS, pensions they only dream of? The best metaphor I could find was that in towns and cities throughout the UK homeless people were living on the streets. How could that be, they asked, in one of the richest countries in the world?
Then came lockdown. Now I have to tell them that more people per head of population have died in the UK than in any other country apart from Belgium.
Lockdown showed how indispensable care workers, hospital cleaners, supermarket staff, zero hours contract drivers are but also how vulnerable. Many have no sick pay and cannot afford to be off work. How much did this put them and the community at risk?
The lack of effective tracking, testing and tracing for Covid-19 tells another story. You would think that the first port of call for testing would be your local surgery. Yet the other day a friend who rang our surgery to get tested was told it that was nothing to with them and was given a 111 number. This because the government outsourced testing to a firm of accountants who had never been involved in testing and haven’t linked with the Health Service. Every local authority has public health officials who are experts in tracking and tracing for food poisoning outbreaks and sexually transmitted diseases. Their expertise was only harnessed a fortnight ago because for ten years we have had governments who distrust local authorities so much that their funding has been cut by 60%.
A major effort at the start of lockdown by local councils with government funding gave housing to people living on the streets. It showed what can be done if the will is there. The Chancellor has spent unprecedented amounts of money but we need more. £6 billion for the NHS is not enough. There must be proper employment protection for everyone and an end to zero hours contracts. We must rebuild local government and stop relying on the private sector to do their job. Lockdown brought people together, as all the support within communities showed. We need to build on this and create a society that looks after everyone.
By Alastair Tinto, First Published In The Cornish Times 17/07/20.