Discovering the danger of austerity and ignoring poverty for a generation

By Acton Murry

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Tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands infected. These are the big stories filling our screens at the moment, at least in our house hold between all the children’s TV. I swear to god, if I watch Bing one more time I’m going to end it all.

People dying from a deadly disease is tragic, but isn’t surprising. Seeing how supposedly wealthy nations are dealing with the pandemic on the other hand; America, the ‘wealthiest country in the world’ are digging mass graves in the Bronx, due to the number of people who have died who are unable to afford a funeral, or have no next of kin. Now that’s not just surprising; that’s alarming.

Britain isn’t faring much better. Our frontline workers in the NHS are battling with the sick and dying daily with no respite in site, and crucially no PPE or the vital lifesaving equipment required; we are literally running out of air for the sick. The ‘Clap for the NHS’ is soon to be replaced with a ‘Whip around for the NHS’ so we can buy some more 3D printed face masks.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock won an award yesterday for the quickest passing of the buck. When asked how many NHS staff have died of the disease, immediately declaring “this is one for you Ruth”-Ruth being the Chief Nursing Officer, who was clearly blindsided and talked around the question; the answers 19 Mr Hancock, just so you know.

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Could we have been completely ready for this pandemic? No, of course not. There would always be something better we could have done, something more, something we missed. But we knew in January that this would be a complete sh*t-show; we did nothing, instead we began panicked pleas in February/March. We ran a training scenario to enable better advising of COBRA in 2017 for a simulated outbreak EXACTLY like COVID-19. The post action report stated we needed thousands of ventilators; because of austerity, we did nothing.

To those saying Mr Hancock is the worst health Secretary ever; I’d say that’s very unfair on Jeremy Hunt, who oversaw the systematic stripping down of the NHS to the absolute minimal operating capability it’s at now; Mr Hancock simply inherited an already smouldering NHS, and now it’s on fire.

In wider society, we have children and whole families going hungry. For many children, one of their main meals a day was the hot meal their school offered them; the rest came from food banks which are now severely limited in capacity. School teachers are now driving from house to house, delivering meals to their most vulnerable students. Again, public servants going above and beyond what’s required of them, without being asked, after the system they work within failing them.

Disturbingly, very few of our nations vulnerable children allocated a school place to keep them safe during the coronavirus crisis are actually turning up. According to Newsnight, some areas are seeing just a quarter of the “at-risk” children who are meant to be in school attending, and in some areas its lower than 10%.

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Norfolk’s Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection, told Newsnight: “Is it possible that we will see a coronavirus impact upon child sexual abuse? Yes I think it’s possible, in exactly the same way as I’ve got to work on the premise that we will also see more children groomed and abused online.”

He grimly went on: “The people who deliberately hurt children… for those people, this works very much in their advantage because they do have quite literally a captive audience, they have people there who can’t get away.”

How is this possible in the UK in 2020? One word; Austerity. Or rather, the lack of spending after austerity achieved its initial purpose. The number of child protection enquiries has increased 139 per cent in 10 years. The last figures I could find showed a total number of looked after children hit a new high of 75,420 in 2017/18; with an average of 88 children going into care every day. Add to this funding cuts and then throw a pandemic on top of an already creaking system, you get the nightmare we’re witnessing right now. If the virus doesn’t claim our most vulnerable children, then their abusers just mite.

The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ its becoming glaringly obvious. I’ve been guilty of it myself: “Why are these idiots sitting in the park?! Don’t they know there’s a pandemic going on?” I’ve found myself thinking, whilst sitting in the garden, beer in hand, sunning myself.

Now, I’m sure there are unfortunately some genuine idiots out there taking the mick, but what about the thousands of people who don’t have a green space to enjoy? Who have children that are going crazy stuck in a small flat? We need the outside world, we physically need sunlight to stay healthy and for our children’s development and growth. Yet so many people seem almost unaware of the fact that some people don’t have the simple luxury of a garden. Let alone numerous toys, TV packages, arts and crafts and the usual mammoth list of items it takes to keep young people stimulated and entertained.

For all the doom there is light at the end of the tunnel. Preliminary statistics show that the lockdown is working, the peak seems to be insight. More PPE and ventilators have been promised from various sources. Our nation is full of wonderful, kind hearted people who are doing their best to ensure our most vulnerable don’t go hungry and are looked after. The pandemic really has brought the best out in most.

It seems almost certain that when the dust settles, we will have a serious discussion on social reform. How we fund our NHS, how we ensure we have the number of medical professionals so desperately required, and what funding for education we provide. The so far poor response from UK banks, despite the bailouts in 2007 during the recession, seems likely to receive a redress.

The virus has shown the best of our people, but has highlighted the flaws in our systems; America’s lack of social care. Our lack of investment in our public services following several years of austerity. It’s also shown to many the staggering affect we are having on our environment. In these uncertain and chaotic times only one thing is certain; the corona virus will be leaving a mass of change and reform in its wake.   

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