Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on March 20 2020.
We are weeks into the Covid-19 crisis. The Government’s announcements on Friday were the most profound yet, at last some much needed support and reassurance for people. Sadly I have to agree with many commentators from a variety of viewpoints, that the U.K. Government has dragged its feet. It is in fact still dragging its feet but we are moving in the right direction.
The scale of the response indicates that the Government, no doubt pushed hard by the unions has recognised both the scale of the problem and the human pain.
This is not the time to try to score cheap political points. That would be facile and unproductive. Public health and well-being comes first. So a few thoughts.
It’s absolutely time to move to a Universal Basic Income, (UBI). A regular amount paid to everyone. A guaranteed income, which was first mentioned in Thomas More’s 16th century Utopia. Those that don’t need the cash, can donate their share elsewhere. Implementing UBI could be done with the minimum bureaucracy. We need to dispense with the complex, patchwork and frankly failing, benefits system. Think of UBI as quantitative easing for the people. We’ve seen first hand the dehumanising and demoralising impact of scraping by in poverty in Thanet and elsewhere. So let’s aim to end subsistence living. Let’s get in step with our EU neighbours. Let’s value everyone, the sick, the unemployed, the WASPI women, part-time workers, everyone. Let’s give poverty the boot.
We now urgently need to look after the self-employed and those on zero hour contracts. There’s nothing yet, for them. In the prevailing ‘gig’ economy we can’t afford to exacerbate the gap between employees and workers. All workers are valuable. I hope the Government will move fast to offer reassurance and financial help to the self-employed.
Self-care. Look after yourselves. You are precious, others no doubt depend on you and love you. So take small and regular steps to safeguard your health and well-being. Don’t feel guilty about looking after yourself as then you can better look after other people. This isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon.
Get ready to start asking your politicians hard questions, about everything, but especially about our NHS. Many have said the NHS is being stripped out for privatisation. That is true. Our vital staff have been working ‘to the max’ for a long time. Staff shortages have made a difficult job really difficult. These staff shortages were always avoidable. The internal supply chain buckled long ago, as non-clinical staff were stripped out and budgets were driven down. When we all get through this, and we will, we must re-balance and reinvest in this great institution and our NHS workers.
It might sound strange but do compare yourself to others. Particularly Syrians and other people living in war zones. Refugees trapped on Greek islands, those people desperately trying to get on to lorries, crossing dangerous stretches of water in flimsy boats. Let’s compare ourselves to economic migrants, to millionaires, even royalty. Is there any reason for living with such glaring inequality?
Going forward let’s fight together to keep our all our current rights at work and to improve them. How on earth did we end up in a situation where people have to live and plan lives on zero hour contracts and do not know when they will next work? This is a return to the 1930’s, where workers queued daily for work. The current crisis shows clearly this is a system which isn’t fit for purpose.
Last but not least. We can’t always choose what happens to us in life, but we can choose our response. That sounds so simple, but in reality it’s the hardest most challenging thing to do. I for one, am going to try to stay positive and resourceful. By being positive I hope I influence others to be positive. This is the most difficult challenge but our fantastic local community is pulling together, is being kind, is both thoughtful and creative. We can all play our part in looking after those that need more help and support.