When the pandemic first hit, the Government brought back an old phrase. “We are all in it together”, they said, but that is not how it has turned out. A report published today by Oxfam shows that the 10 richest individuals in the world have seen their wealth rise by more than £400 billion since March. Friends and donors of the Conservatives have been handed fortunes in deeply questionable covid contracts. Private companies have seen it as an opportunity to open up the NHS to further privatisation. But the vast majority of the public? More than 750,000 jobs lost and 6 million families now on universal credit. In poorer, working-class communities, people are at twice the risk of dying from covid compared with those in the richest. BAME communities are at between 10% and 50% higher risk of dying. Just like when the greed of bankers caused the financial crisis and the working class paid with a decade of austerity, here again, the working class are being hit the hardest by a crisis not of their making.
That is the background to the Government’s plans, forcing councils to raise council tax to help plug the gap of the £15 billion cut from central Government funds in the last decade. It is a move that can mean a rise of nearly £100 on average for band D households, breaking the Government’s promise to
“do whatever is necessary to support councils”.
It does not stop there. In addition to the Government’s plans to cut universal credit by £1,000 a year, they plan to rip up workers’ rights, endangering everything from holiday pay entitlement to the 48-hour working week. They have already cut corners on free school meals and forced a cruel public sector pay freeze on key workers, even as their labour is what is getting us through this crisis.
Before the pandemic hit, Britain was rigged: rigged in the interests of the rich and the powerful by a Tory party funded by the rich and the powerful. That rigged society has meant that this pandemic has hit much harder than it needed to: workers who cannot afford to self-isolate, families who are crammed into overcrowded housing, services privatised and run for profit, not public health, and now the highest death toll in Europe, the worst death rate in the world and the deepest recession of any major economy. There should be no going back to that. So, far from increasing council tax for ordinary people or freezing pay for key workers, we should instead crack down on the £90 billion dodged in tax every year, making the super-rich and big businesses pay their fair share, and giving key workers the pay rise they deserve, councils the funding they need and our public services the resources to serve us all.