We live in strange times that bring out the worst in people, such as panic buying, but also the best. And over the days and weeks ahead we will undoubtedly witness tragedies that one way or another affect us all. In the UK we’re also witnessing a major shift in the way government responds to the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson’s gung-ho approach has gone and in his TV appearances, he appears out of his depth.
As to the economic and political systems that have exacerbated the crisis, will they fall victim too?
UK government playing catchup
It’s been apparent that the UK government is playing catchup. It wasted valuable weeks – which likely increased the number of deaths – while it toyed with an inappropriate ‘herd immunity’ approach. That approach was reportedly promoted by special adviser Dominic Cummings and the ‘Nudge Unit’, and condemned and questioned by leading clinicians across the UK.
O my prophetic soul:
“Cummings and Vallance were “close allies”… the government had “bet” the future of the UK on advice from a very small group of scientists that for a long time differed from the wider international consensus” #herdimmunity https://t.co/zRrGDYRzWc
— Peter Jukes (@peterjukes) March 21, 2020
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A “minister” told Buzzfeed News: that Cummings and Patrick Vallance the government’s chief scientific adviser:
were “close allies” and claimed the government had “bet” the future of the UK on advice from a very small group of scientists that for a long time differed from the wider international consensus, and other members of SAGE.
Peoples’ lives are not a game for scientists, such as those at SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), and ideologues such as Cummings and his associates to play with.
The government has since been forced into a u-turn and has introduced stringent but necessary measures that mean the UK’s edging closer to total lockdown. Also, there’s now unprecedented financial support to businesses.
But this is only a start.
Labour’s Zarah Sultana pointed out that time is running out:
The government is beginning to appreciate the scale of the economic crisis, but it's not going far enough, fast enough.
Urgent action is needed for the self-employed, gig-economy workers, small businesses, renters, & a rise in statutory sick pay.
There's no time to waste.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) March 20, 2020
The government did announce financial support for workers. Two weeks ago, or even a week ago, to associate such a level of support for workers with a Conservative government would have been unthinkable.
But, despite these measures, much more is needed:
It’s dawning on people that there are huge gaping holes in yesterday’s Chancellor’s statement. We must urge him to shift once more to protect the wages of the self employed by including them in the jobs retention scheme & to raise the level of sick pay to the real living wage.
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) March 21, 2020
Setting the agenda
In regard to wages support for workers, for example, Labour proposes that wages of all workers who could lose their jobs should have their wages underwritten by the government. This proposal goes further than that of the government’s in that lower and middle-wage earners should receive 90% and 85% respectively of their wages from the state. Furthermore, Labour proposes that businesses for which the worker works will pay the shortfall, with no worker laid off.
On March 21, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also wrote to Johnson, explaining what needs to be done with regard to support for the self-employed, those who pay rent:
Boris Johnson should provide economic security for everyone to get through this.
That means much more help for the self-employed, renters and workers, improved social security and an increase in sick pay, which the Health Secretary has admitted isn't currently enough to live on. pic.twitter.com/24FxgRZMjr
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) March 21, 2020
Labour MP Stephen Doughty has also coordinated a letter, supported by scores of cross-party MPs, urging chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide further financial support to charities and similar organisations:
Great to be joined by over 100 MPs and Peers from 7 parties to urge further clarity + urgent action from UK Government @RishiSunak for charities who face £4.3 billion loss in income over next 12wks. Will play crucial role in fight against #Coronavirus and supporting communities. https://t.co/eAdagzsLnv pic.twitter.com/SRS6gRjSyA
— Stephen Doughty MP / AS (@SDoughtyMP) March 21, 2020
Mutual aid goes viral
There are also interventions at grassroots level.
On 14 March The Canary reported on how community groups around the UK have sprung up to offer a level of mutual support within local communities. For example:
If a single mother cannot leave the house and is running low on food, or if an elderly person needs medication, they can contact the Brighton Covid-19 Mutual Aid group.
In an article published by Anarchist Communism before some of the government’s more recent pronouncements, one person described some of the activities of their local mutual aid group:
In the village where I live, Facebook organising has produced more than 350 names in four days, volunteering various kinds of help, including visits to elderly and disabled by local known people, street by street, free exchange of surplus daily necessities, a local shop and a community centre offered for food collection, assembling food parcels and deliveries, free taxi to Iceland to pick up supplies, meals for free school dinner kids, even dog walking (there are 1000’s of dogs here).
Freedom Press published a listing of Covid-19 Mutual Aid groups on 13 March, since then that’s grown and grown across the UK. The Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK website provides a facility so that you can search for your nearest mutual aid group. And TogetherTV provides an interactive map of Covid-19 Mutual Aid groups across the UK.
As for the worst and best, this sums it all up:
When the world returns to normal and we return to retail & restaurants I'm going to remember the good that businesses did & also remember how Philip Green (he's not getting Sir from me) sent all Topshop workers home with no pay, just before govt announced the help for workers. pic.twitter.com/w6crkbrtQi
— Jo Marriott (@JoMarriott11) March 21, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that in many parts of the world traditional economic ideologies have been cast to one side. Where governments are of the right, these ideologies have now been replaced by a pseudo, if not real, form of socialism, albeit temporarily.
The real question now is about how those emergency economic measures can be retained to ensure that a more just and equitable society becomes a permanent feature of our lives. If that happens, we may well then be in a position to glimpse a very different, post-capitalist way of life.
There is hope on the horizon. We should not waste the opportunity that now presents itself.
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