Jeremy Corbyn has highlighted an uncomfortable truth that Britain must address now more than ever amid the coronavirus emergency.
As the Conservative government is renting private hospital beds at a cost of £2.4m per day, the outgoing Labour leader has stressed the importance of prioritising public welfare over private profit.
A crisis is the worst time to shy away from the truth
Speaking to the BBC, Corbyn first praised the people who are currently “undertaking phenomenal levels of work” to deal with the crisis. But he also emphasised that Britain is “a divided society”. Referring to a decade of elitist Tory-led governments, he said:
we do have a lot of people who are very poor, we do have a lot of people who are very vulnerable, we have a shortage of hospital beds. Ten years of austerity is now being shown up.
"Ten years of austerity is now being shown up"
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says while people are "undertaking phenomenal levels of work" in the face of coronavirus, "we've also got to recognise we are a divided society"https://t.co/l8rsHLp2rB pic.twitter.com/c1uSkmPG4a
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— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) March 20, 2020
Corbyn and others have recently criticised the government’s highly controversial response to the crisis. Some of his critics, meanwhile, have said people shouldn’t ‘politicise‘ the issue. But when people’s lives are literally at stake, this would be the worst time possible to stop holding the government to account – especially given its recent record in power.
Tory austerity left us vulnerable
Since 2010, the billionaire–backed Conservative Party and its allies have inflicted devastating ideological austerity on the country. This intensified both regional and economic divisions. And it starved the NHS while severely reducing public funding for education, social welfare, the justice system, councils, and housing. The devastating austerity policy also sparked a rise in poverty, foodbank usage, and widespread suffering for some of the most vulnerable people in Britain. At least 130,000 people died as a result of just one aspect of the policy. One recent report, meanwhile, revealed what one expert called a “national scandal”, with life expectancy slowing and health inequalities widening between the wealthiest and poorest parts of England.
Between 2010 and 2019, the number of NHS England beds fell by around 17,000. And in this environment of severe underfunding from Tory-led governments, the NHS is clearly struggling to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
NHS staff facing coronavirus have made three clear demands of the government – testing, protective equipment and ventilators. As the outbreak grows, there are no signs that any of these will be met. https://t.co/vq4LQxB5GI
— Tribune (@tribunemagazine) March 20, 2020
People before profit!
While the government announced new measures on 20 March to help workers, pressure has been growing for it to introduce a universal income.
In fact, over 500 international academics and public figures have now joined calls for governments to support people with an “emergency universal basic income” (UBI). This would see governments give all citizens a regular amount of money to cover essential living costs. The academics said UBI “should play a central role in the emergency response to this crisis” alongside healthcare provision to ensure everyone “has enough money to buy the food and other essentials they need to survive”. One Oxford economics fellow stressed that £1,000 per person would cost £66bn a month – “a fraction of the nearly £500bn bailout the UK needed to stay afloat during the 2008 financial crisis”.
If the banks could be bailed out during the financial crisis, then our communities must be bailed out now.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) March 19, 2020
More than 170 MPs and peers in the UK have also called for UBI, highlighting that it “would be far more effective than subsidising company payroll” and “would protect self-employed workers and those in precarious employment”. Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has also backed UBI.
Hold the government to account!
For the sake of ordinary people up and down the country, we should all hope that the government does all it can to help people to survive this crisis. But as one Labour MP stressed, hope isn’t enough:
It's said we should all get behind the government, but here's the problem:
It's not doing enough to prevent layoffs; to support incomes; to protect renters, NHS staff, the elderly, sick & disabled.
I'll get behind an approach to this crisis that defends the working class.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) March 19, 2020
In short, it’s more important than ever right now to hold the government to account. That means highlighting where austerity has left people dangerously vulnerable – and how that needs to be radically reversed. It also means supporting the workers who drive the economy, and prioritising their wellbeing over private profits. That’s why Corbyn’s message is so important. Because we shouldn’t just hope for the best – we need to demand it too.
Featured image via Sophie Brown
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