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Using the pandemic to rob the poor

The Tories have capitalised on Covid-19 to line the pockets of their privateer pals and rapidly advance the austerity agenda, writes JON TRICKETT MP

COVID-19 vaccinations are underway. Over two million people have been inoculated. Extended support has belatedly been forthcoming for the economy, albeit still with numerous blind spots. And now the government wants us to believe that thanks to their masterful stewardship we can now see light at the end of the tunnel.

But this is far from the reality.

The fact is that here in Britain we have suffered much more than nearly every country on the planet. Tragically 92,865 people have died from Covid-19 at the time of writing. Alarmingly this number is rising day by day.

And it is working people in the poorest communities who are dying at a much higher rate. Many will ask why.

Ten years of austerity has eroded resilience with harsher cuts to public services, less investment and bigger cuts to local government in the most deprived communities. Those in lower paid jobs are also more likely to be key workers who are at the front line of this crisis, keeping our country going.

Covid-19 is a terrible public health tragedy. But it also starkly highlights the deep underlying inequalities we saw before the crisis, and these will only get worse if we continue with the economic, social and political system the Tories have been ideologically wedded to.

If there is no radical change in direction, again working people will be left to shoulder the immense burden of the Covid-19 recovery.

But the government has shown it is unwilling to take the action needed.

At the very start of the pandemic the government chose to delay addressing the crisis until the last possible moment. When it finally did act, it showed the country what its priority really is.

You only have to look at the contracts issued to Tory chums like confetti at a wedding. £12 billion of public money has been spent without any tendering process, filtered out to Tory contacts and networks. This government has appointed 2,300 consultants on £163,000 each. Meanwhile, newly band 5 qualified NHS nurses find starting pay for their roles to be below £25,000.

That is why over a decade after the international financial crisis, average incomes have still not recovered. Yet the wealthiest have enjoyed a decade of prosperity. When you consider that the 1,000 richest people in Britain have increased their wealth by a staggering £538bn since the crash of 2008, the only conclusion that can be reached is that something is seriously wrong.

And during this pandemic it is getting worse. Billionaires gained $845bn during the first six months of the pandemic. All while millions of working people have been left scrambling for financial support. In my own county of West Yorkshire alone, 52,450 people were forced onto universal credit between March and June 2020.

Let’s call this out for what it is: cronyism. Chumocracy in its purest form on an unprecedented scale.

Meanwhile the Tories shamefully voted against extending the provision of free school meal vouchers to all eligible children over the holiday, leaving local councils to step in. The same councils that have seen their budgets slashed year on year for a decade. Their public services decimated.

Hartlepool is one such council. Government funding for this northern council in 2019/20 was 31 per cent smaller than in 2011/12. Yet they found a way to make sure vulnerable kids in their patch had food to eat.

In voting against free school meals, this Tory government neglected to protect our most vulnerable children. They have also neglected to protect our front-line healthcare and key workers. Department of Health and Social Care budgets rose by 1.4 per cent each year on average (adjusting for inflation) in the 10 years between 2009/10 to 2018/19, compared to the 3.7 per cent average rises since the NHS was established.

And it is not just financially that our health workers have been left exposed. When this virus first soared through our country back in April, this Tory government was wasting £150 million of taxpayers’ money on a contract with Ayanda Capital that resulted in 50 million unusable masks.

Our front-line heroes faced an unprecedented situation and went to work every day with inadequate PPE. As did millions of key workers across dozens of industries. Their reward for such bravery brought about due to government incompetence? A pay freeze.

The impact of these policies is clear. The high and growing levels of Tory inequality have exacerbated the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The facts speak for themselves as seen in a recent Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis which found:

Poor children have been hit worse than their better-off peers, with pupils at private schools twice as likely to get daily online lessons than those in state provision during lockdown. 

High earners and graduates have had their work less disrupted than lower earners and those less educated, with a 7 per cent reduction in graduates doing paid work, compared to a 17 per cent reduction of non-graduates. The number of self-employed has fallen by 10 per cent, with the government failing to provide any support for two million self-employed workers — many doing essential services and manual jobs.

And it is the poor and ethnic minorities that have borne the brunt of this pandemic. The mortality rates from Covid-19 were twice as high in the most deprived areas as in the least deprived ones. Mortality among some Bame groups has been twice those among white British.   

The government must not be allowed to pursue a deepening division of our society through growing inequalities. In doing exactly that after the 2008 crash the Tories created the injustices within our society that have been laid bare over the past 10 months. Covid-19 is attacking poverty. Poverty that the Tories created.

A new urgent challenge in our society presents itself and it is one that will require a fundamental reset about how our country is governed and how we redistribute resources and wealth.

The Covid-19 recovery cannot mimic the Tory response to the financial crisis. It should instead be centred on poverty alleviation and tackling inequality in health, income, wealth, education and family life.

The driving force and mantra of every intervention made by the labour movement must be to reduce the gap between rich and poor, reversing the entrenched levels of inequality that plague our society.

Jon Trickett is MP for Hemsworth.

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