Putting people first and building back better

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Coronavirus has extracted a heavy toll. Instead of the Tory approach to dealing with it, we need to put people first. People’s health, the vulnerable, the elderly and school children should come before business and the economy. Economic considerations should be taken into account to the extent that they impact wellbeing, but they should not be the basis of decision-making. Just as Boris Johnson and the Tories believe it is one rule for Dominic Cummings and a different rule for the rest of us, their approach to Coronavirus is not delivering for the many.

Labour needs to fight for a different approach. That means not easing the lockdown until it is genuinely safe to do so and there is a proper tracking and tracing system in place. Health and care workers should be supplied with the PPE they need and there should be stronger safeguards to ensure all workers are as safe as possible. We must stand with trade unions as they fight to protect their members.

We also need to make sure that those who are facing economic hardship get the support they need, for example through rent cancellations. Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting BAME people and we must put in place measures to address this. Victims of domestic violence are also at considerable risk as a result of the lock-down and better support needs to be provided for them.

The government is developing a track and tracing app to help with combatting Covid-19. New legislation is needed to protect the data collected by it and maximise the chances of the public trusting the app, as suggested by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

After the Covid-19 pandemic is over, we cannot just go back to business as usual. Covid-19 has shown the best of humanity, from our NHS and care workers to neighbours helping each other. We should ensure that we build a more equal and closer-knit society after this crisis, like we did after the Second World War.

The coronavirus crisis has now thrown into sharp relief how fragile many people’s existence is. Many workers were living pay cheque to pay cheque before the pandemic, while those out of work struggled on meagre benefits. Many of the elderly are not getting the help they need due to the crisis in the social care system and the NHS has been underfunded for a decade.

Nonetheless, the right is already arguing for a fresh round of austerity. We need to make the case for instead building back better to a more equitable society.

No one should earn less than the living wage, public service workers should get the pay they deserve, not year after year of wage freezes, and public services should get the money they need.

A core priority for Labour must be secure jobs with good wages. Wages in the UK have stagnated since the 2007-8 financial crisis. To address this, we need to increase productivity, for example through investment in education and infrastructure, while also ensuring that workers get a fair share of productivity increases. We also need to improve employment protections and to move away from a long-hours economy.

We need a benefits system that treats people with dignity not stigma. Those receiving benefits are some of the most vulnerable in society. Labour has pledged to scrap universal credit but we need to replace it with a new system that treats benefit recipients with dignity and gives them the help they need. We need to substantially increase benefit levels as well as radically improving the support that is offered, whether that be with job seeking, training or to address health problems.

Coronavirus has exposed the frailty of our care system. We need to put in place a centrally funded National Care Service that provides high quality care for our elderly, as well as decent pay and working conditions for staff.

Labour had great policies for a Green New Deal in our last manifesto but somehow the idea did not cut through with the public. We need to communicate policies in this area better, as the climate emergency cannot wait.

Coronavirus has shown that where there is the will there is a way to bring about major social change, whether that is in how we go about our daily lives or providing massive state support to the economy. We need to translate that capacity for action into the post-coronavirus world and build back better to a more equal society that puts people first.

Omar Salem is standing in the elections for an open place on the Open Labour National Committee.

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