Corbyn: How we can build a better world after Covid

Covid-19 has shown that we undervalue public services and the public sector at our peril – now is the time to invest in a different future, writes MP Jeremy Corbyn

Friday, 22nd January 2021 — By Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn_August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn says ‘huge lessons’ must be learned from the virus crisis

THE coronavirus crisis, which is now approaching its first anniversary and in Britain currently at its worst point yet in terms of the daily death toll, has brought out the best and the worst in our society.

The best being the amazing response of National Health Service workers, care workers, local council workers, all our emergency services and all our delivery workers, from the local postman/woman to delivery drivers, those working in public transport and many others. Teachers, school and college staff have been amazing.

The wonderful response of volunteers at food banks, mutual aid groups and for those in isolation has been amazing. The growth of these groups is a defining moment in our history. Those who have come together to be the glue of our communities will not forget it.

Now is the time to reflect on the government response – or lack of it – also. The World Health Organisation announced the novel virus in January 2020 and soon described it as a pandemic. The British government did not take the report seriously and failed to respond to the very strong advice to “test, test, test” as a way of locating those who were carrying or suffering from Covid-19.

Indeed, the concept of “herd immunity” was given serious consideration in those early days.

The pandemic has exposed the underfunding of our NHS and social care. It has also exposed the lack of preparedness of safety equipment, ventilators and much else.

This was despite a strong national security recommendation of years before, insisting we should be prepared for future novel and unknown contagious diseases.

After weeks of dithering, whilst China, New Zealand and South Korea were taking effective action, the government started realising the problems and gave enthusiastically to private sector contractors with no track record of any health or care work.

The lesson here is that we underfund public services and undervalue our public sector at our peril.

Clapping for NHS and care workers is an excellent way of showing appreciation, but better pay and a less stressful working environment would be more appreciated.

The lockdowns have had their toll.

Being told to stay at home is bearable if you have a reasonable home, a garden, a secure job and can afford to have your needs delivered.

It is a wholly different story if you are in an overcrowded flat, or have insufficient computers, fears for your job or are trying to survive on inadequate benefits.

The mental health toll was huge during the first lockdown; now in our third, it is reaching crisis proportions.

The lessons of Covid, then, are huge. But have they been learned?

Just over a year ago I was heavily criticised for proposing big investment in public services and universally free broadband to ensure everyone had equal access to on-line services, and of course learning.

Now, such policies just seem the tip of the iceberg of the transformative change we need.

The government is now preparing to offer up our NHS in trade deals, as well as tearing up workers’ rights legislation.

Boris Johnson denied he would do this, but we now see a clear economic direction that is unfolding.

The austerity imposed in 2010 has led to wage cuts, inadequate services and a redistribution of wealth – but in the wrong direction: from the many to the few.

Poverty is now the reality for millions, whilst the wealthiest have become richer.

The excessive profits of the biggest companies are mind-boggling, and a windfall tax on super-profits made during the crisis should be introduced to help fund our recovery.

Government “austerity 2.0” will further traumatise a generation already stressed by Covid and uncertainty.

But there is an alternative. Now is the time to invest for the future in a green revolution and recognise that a society that cares for all is better than one disfigured by poverty, inequality and lost opportunities.

As welcome as the vaccines are, there was a very frightening and illuminating message this week from the director general of the World Health Organisation, who pointed out that 39 million doses have been administered in the 49 richest countries. In one of the world’s poorest countries just 25 doses have been administered.

He called it a catastrophic moral failure.

He is right.

The lesson of this grim period is that we all rely on each other to have a healthy future.

As the MP for Islington North, I continue to be proud of our community, the response of our health services and council, and the way we have collectively reached out to support the most vulnerable.

• Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North

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