The ongoing Covid Inquiry has been hitting the headlines once again – but this time for some of the wrong reasons. While the media focuses on Dominic Cummings’ use of swear words, the biggest story is that the government deliberately let certain sections of the population die. Not that the state killing off its own citizens in the UK is somehow new – just ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about it.
Covid Inquiry revelations
On Tuesday 31 October, the public inquiry into the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic heard evidence from former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain, and former advisor to Johnson, Cummings. As the Guardian summed up, some of the main takeaways from their evidence were that:
Cummings used misogynistic language to denigrate the deputy cabinet secretary, Helen MacNamara. But he claimed foul-mouthed messages about his colleague were not misogynistic, saying he was “much ruder about men”.
A toxic culture of government incompetence, backstabbing and misogyny was laid bare
And the inquiry heard that:
Johnson’s chaotic indecisiveness delayed lockdown measures
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However, for many people, the main takeaway of the Covid Inquiry on 31 October was, as the Guardian noted, that Johnson:
had told senior advisers the Covid virus was “just nature’s way of dealing with old people” and he was “no longer buying” the fact the NHS was overwhelmed during the pandemic.
As a member of campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK summed up on X, Johnson:
clearly didn’t see people like my mum as human beings, and thousands others died unnecessarily after the same mistakes were repeated because of Johnson’s callous and brutal attitude.
The notion that Johnson thought older people were expendable to protect the economy – that is, that they can die in the name of protecting the rich and younger people – is, as the relative said, “callous and brutal”. However, there is another word for it: ‘democide’.
As poet Michael Rosen tweeted:
You're missing the point guys. What was unleashed in 2020 was various forms of 'demicide' – who is it OK to let die? The govt helped unleash a country divided against itself, people dismissing the medical profession and willing to dispense with 100s of 1000s of others.
— Michael Rosen 💙💙🎓🎓 (@MichaelRosenYes) October 31, 2023
‘Democide’, as Rosen probably meant to type, is:
a term coined by political scientist R. J. Rummel for “the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder”… Democides are not the elimination of entire cultural groups, but rather groups within the country that the government feels they need to be eradicated for political reasons and future threats.
So Rosen is arguing that Johnson and his government were willing to kill members of certain groups of people for political reasons – based on the evidence from the Covid Inquiry.
‘Let the old people get it’
As the Financial Times (FT) reported, the Covid Inquiry heard that:
Cain said Johnson did not believe Covid was a “big deal” and thought “his main danger [was] talking [the] economy into a slump”.
The article went on to state that:
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, wrote that Johnson appeared “obsessed with older people accepting their fate” and considered the virus to be “just Nature’s way of dealing with old people”.
In December 2020, weeks before England entered a third national lockdown, Vallance wrote: “Chief whip [Mark Spencer] says ‘I think we should let the old people get it and protect others’. PM says ‘a lot of my backbenchers think that and I must say I agree with them’.”
Further to this, the health secretary during the early stages of the pandemic, Matt Hancock, allowed hospitals to discharge people into care homes without testing them for coronavirus. Over 40,000 people in care homes’ deaths involved Covid. This is a clear example of the state actively enabling the deaths of older people for political reasons – that is, because it believed the NHS would not cope with the pandemic. The High Court eventually ruled that Hancock’s actions were unlawful.
Furthermore, campaign groups have questioned the legality of the NHS putting blanket Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices on clinically vulnerable people – like chronically ill and learning disabled people. Around 500 of these DNRs breached people’s human rights. Again, the state – via the NHS – was actively encouraging the deaths vulnerable groups of people for political reasons.
Democide during the pandemic, and at the DWP
So, Rosen’s reference to democide is apt. He’s not the first person to posit this, though. As the Canary reported in 2022, the People’s Covid Inquiry – led by barrister Mike Mansfield QC – noted that:
The question is raised as to whether this amounts to democide (‘the killing of members of a country’s civilian population, as a result of its government’s policy, including by direct action, indifference, and neglect’), ‘social murder’, gross negligence manslaughter, or misconduct in a public office?
However, the idea that – as far as the state is concerned – certain groups of people can die for political reasons is hardly new or shocking.
Another recent example of democide by the UK government can be found in the policies of the DWP since 2010. As the Canary wrote in 2018:
Disabled people are starving, homeless, penniless, terminally ill, dying and killing themselves. After three years of one political party’s rule, you could put it down to policy errors; five years could just about be excused by rhetoric like ‘we’re still learning lessons’. But after eight years of misery, poverty death and effective democide – only one conclusion can be drawn.
The Conservative government and the DWP are allowing sick and disabled people to die.
Democide at the DWP: a systemic problem for the state
For example, 42-year-old mother Jodey Whiting took her own life after the DWP stopped her social security. You can read more about her here. Whiting was just one of tens of thousands of people who died in the previous decade on the DWP’s watch. In 2018 alone at least 750 people took their own lives while claiming benefits from the DWP. However, it’s the figures for people who died after the DWP said they were fit for work which are most pertinent, here.
As the Canary previously reported, around 90 people a month – 2,380 people overall – died between December 2011 and February 2014 after the DWP told them they were fit for work. This decision meant the DWP would have stopped most, if not all, of their benefits before their deaths.
Given these figures, it would have been logical for the DWP to have halted the fit-for-work process. Instead, it did very little to change things – and people kept dying. Between 1 March 2014 and 28 February 2017, 1,560 people died within six months of the DWP telling them they were fit for work.
The death of any person as a result of a government policy is nothing more than a scandal. And it’s clear from the cases that I talked about… this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t know what’s going on. For too long the [DWP] has failed to address the effects of its policies. It must now act. Enough is enough.
Like Johnson and the government’s decisions during the pandemic, the DWP has been making policy decisions for political reasons that it knows will kill people – that is, democide.
So, while the revelations from the Covid Inquiry aren’t new, they do point to a systemic culture in successive governments which holds that some people’s lives are more valuable than others. Whether it be older people or disabled people, the state believes that some people are expendable for political purposes. That’s the biggest scandal of the Covid Inquiry – and the DWP right along with it.
Featured image via PoliticsJOE – YouTube
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