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Socialist MPs accuse Johnson of waging ‘class war’ as figures show higher rates of Covid-19 deaths in service sectors

SOCIALIST Labour MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson today of waging a “class war” by urging people to go back to work and putting profit before safety.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data revealed today where the burden of the pandemic is falling.

Workers in service jobs — carers, bus drivers, security guards, chefs and retail assistants, for example — have suffered higher rates of death linked to Covid-19 during the pandemic than other workers, and two-thirds of deaths were among men.

The ONS also found that people working in social care, including care workers and home carers, have “significantly” higher death rates involving Covid-19 than the working population as a whole.

Mr Johnson has been severely criticised for saying that people who cannot work from home, such as construction and factory workers, should be “actively encouraged” to return to their workplaces this week.

The Socialist Campaign Group of 17 Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery, John McDonnell and Jon Trickett, slammed the PM’s address to the nation on Sunday as a “thinly veiled declaration of class war.”

They said that the government has “chosen to put the economic demands of some sections of big business above the welfare of the country.”

Their statement continued: “Wherever trade unions are forced to step in to take action against bosses who put their members’ health at risk, they will have our full and unwavering support.”

In the Commons, former Labour leader Mr Corbyn accused Mr Johnson of giving employers “carte blanche to force people back to work without proper consideration of their health and safety.”

He urged him to not lift the lockdown “until it’s absolutely clear that we have the coronavirus crisis under control,” as it is “affecting the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society the worst.”

The PM said that although some restrictions in England were slowly being lifted, the government would “have no hesitation in putting on the brakes and delaying or reintroducing measures” if the data changes on daily infection and death rates.

In a TV broadcast responding to the PM’s Sunday statement, Mr Corbyn’s successor Sir Keir Starmer called for “clarity and reassurance” on the government’s plan for the next phase of its response to the spread of the virus. 

He restated that Labour would “work constructively” with the government to “set out a road map” with “clear directions.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that the ONS findings showed that the government was “failing on workplace safety — with horrific consequences for our lowest-paid and most precarious workers.”

She said that ministers should immediately introduce and enforce robust rules for safety, adding: “This can’t wait any longer. Workers’ lives are on the line.”

John Phillips, acting general secretary of the GMB union, said the ONS figures were “horrifying” and called for a pause on return to work until guidelines were in place.

And RMT general secretary Mick Cash criticised the government for still not having convened a coronavirus safety forum for the transport sector.

“These figures are a sobering reminder that front-line bus and taxi workers across the country are being put at risk by the government’s failure to ensure that workers in these sectors are adequately protected from Covid-19,” he said.

“After the PM’s ambiguous statement [on Sunday], bus workers across the country will now be anxious that they will be put at risk by any increase in passenger numbers, before rigorous safety measures are implemented.”

Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), said that it is “unfortunately not very surprising” that security guards and minicab drivers have some of the highest death rates from Covid-19.

“The workers on the front lines, who cannot work from home and often work for some of the worst employers in the UK, are at extreme risk. Their health and safety needs to be treated with far more care,” he said.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation acting director Helen Barnard urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to keep financial support available as a “lifeline” to people in low-paid public-facing jobs. 

“No-one should have to go out to earn in order to stay afloat if it puts their health at risk,” she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the death of any health worker was “a tragedy.” 

He added that the government was working to ensure it had a “comprehensive picture” of the number of deaths among social care workers and to provide support.

The ONS said its analysis, which could change as more deaths are registered, “does not prove conclusively that the observed rates of death involving Covid-19 are necessarily caused by differences in occupational exposure.”

It said the researchers had adjusted the data for age but not for other factors such as ethnic group or place of residence.

The figures are based on an analysis of the 2,494 registered deaths involving coronavirus among workers aged 20 to 64 in England and Wales up to and including April 20.

The overall coronavirus-linked death rate in Britain rose by 210 to 32,065 today. The number of people who tested positive for the virus increased by 3,877 to 223,060.

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