“The scandal over Dominic Cummings really does highlight that the Tories believe there is one rule for them and another for the rest us – and that they get to write both.”Diane Abbott MP
The scandal over Dominic Cummings and his family really does highlight that the Tories believe there is one rule for them and another for the rest us – and that they get to write both. As his story unravels taking government credibility down with it, it is important to focus on three key aspects of the crisis, which are all related to who rules and in whose interests.
The first point is the scale of the crisis in this country. In the final analysis, virtually every country in the world will be affected by the crisis. But they are not affected equally. In Europe, Germany has had only a fraction of the death toll of this country despite having a significantly larger population. But Germany is very far from being a global model in handling the outbreak. Many Asian Pacific countries have had only a fraction of the German death toll, including China itself, but also New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam.
This means the pandemic is not like a natural disaster which strikes randomly and without warning. It means that some countries, including in the region of the first epicentre of the crisis, were able to combat the crisis better than others. The British government was the opposite. For some days now we have recorded the worst recent death toll in the world in per capita terms. If the Asian Pacific countries provide the model of how to tackle the virus, this government’s mishandling of it offers only a cautionary tale, and a lethal one at that.
Secondly, it is claimed that the virus does not discriminate. This is true to some extent. But we will have to wait and see whether the epidemiologists and scientists establish that there are medical reasons that explain the hugely disproportionate death toll of black and Asian people. But that disproportion is enormous. One recent report (pdf) found that, between the beginning of February and the end of April 2020, black people in England were 71% more likely than white people to die from COVID-19. And Asian people were 62% more likely.
Worse still, according to a recent report in the Guardian more than sixty per cent of all health workers who have died were classified as BAME. This is a further huge disparity even compared to the general death toll in the population. Of course, it cannot be explained by genetic or other factors – black and Asian people working in the NHS are just a part of the wider community. Instead, the answers as to the disparity must be found in the social conditions of these poor people, including their work conditions.
It is not that the virus discriminates but that this government and wider society do. This is highlighted by the analysis from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which stated that, “People living in more deprived areas have experienced COVID-19 mortality rates more than double those living in less deprived areas”. Separately, the ONS also found that people in low-paid, manual jobs face a much greater risk of dying from coronavirus than higher-paid, white-collar workers. Breaking it down, ONS also found that men in low-paid jobs are four times more likely to die from the virus than men in professional occupations, while women working as carers are twice as likely to die as those in professional and technical roles.
So, the effect of the virus is hugely unequal. This is associated with many factors. But successive Tory governments (sometimes aided by the LibDems, sometimes by the DUP) cut housing, the NHS and real pay for the lowest-paid, all of which impact on health. When Boris Johnson said, if you cannot work from home, you should go to work, that will have ensured manual workers were more at risk.
Thirdly, there is the issue of how we will get out of this crisis. It is not by ‘putting the economy first’, and sending lower-paid workers and black and Asian workers back to work to risk disease and death. Under this government we are already experiencing one of the world’s death tolls. We do not need more of the same. Nor do we need ministers who have supported schools’ cuts for a decade expressing fake concerns of about the education of deprived or vulnerable children. This too is all about getting people back to work, otherwise why not the GCSA or A level pupils first? The answer is they do not need carers at home all the time.
Schools should not go back, shops should not reopen and workplaces should not re-start until it is safe. This means both that the number of cases falls to manageable levels and that there is a fully effective system of tracking, tracing and testing the contacts of new cases.
Currently, this is not the case at all. The new cases number in the thousands, way beyond the current capacity to test all contacts. But there is also no system of tracing those contacts at all.
Yet this government wants to press ahead regardless. They clearly seem to believe the health of ordinary people is not their first priority. And it is ordinary workers, many among the lowest paid, as well as black and Asian people who are disproportionately harmed, alongside the carnage they have presided over in the care homes. Our rulers seem to have contempt for those they rule. We must do everything we can to stop them inflicting further damage.