In whatever ways the lockdown eventually starts to lift, I’m hoping we don’t return to normal. Some things I would like to continue. Here are a four of them.
ONE. A recognition and appreciation of the huge role immigrants and the descendants of immigrants play in the National Health Service and other essential parts of our society. The next time some newspaper editor or pub philosopher attempts to stir division with racist tropes and lies, I’d like the image of the faces, overwhelmingly black and brown, of the 100 NHS staff who have given their lives in this pandemic to be in our minds. I’d like us to feel their presence spurring us on to challenge and reject the politics of fear every time it rears its evil head.
TWO. Could that appreciation also take into account the largely female face of the frontline in this pandemic? Of the 3.2 million workers in ‘high risk’ roles, 77% are women. Over a million of these workers are paid below 60% average wages. 98% are women. (There’s a good briefing on this by the Women’s Budget Group). The low-paid status of caring work done largely by women is huge structural injustice. Let’s turn our appreciation of carers into a determination to right this wrong.
THREE. I’d like the appreciation we currently feel for people doing all kinds of public sector and service jobs to continue. Could we agree, as a society, that while we love our footballers and TV presenters, and might envy the power and choice of people with high-paid jobs in finance, we love our bin men, care home workers, supermarket shelf stackers, teaching assistants and farm workers even more? Could we turn the enthusiasm with which we now clap for key workers every Thursday night into a great pride in the working class jobs that most of us do and on which all of us depend?
FOUR. Could that appreciation translate into a rejection of any future austerity? When the reckoning comes and the debate begins on how to get public finances back in order after this crisis, we refuse absolutely to make low-paid, public-sector, working class people pay the price. We refuse absolutely to accept benefit cuts, public sector pay freezes and cuts to public services. If we don’t reject austerity, we will in effect be sending the bill for our survival to the very care workers, shelf stackers and nurses who have saved us.