TO Today a year ago the shutters were lowered and the year of the plague officially began. When hand sanitizer, toilet paper rolls, flour and pasta disappeared from the shelves, no one imagined that more than 126,000 people would die. Nobody thought that the economy would sink by an unthinkable 10%, or that we would still be stuck a year later. At noon today a minute of silence marks this “national day of reflection”. The bells will toll for the dead, with landmarks illuminated at 8pm. The prime minister will observe the minute of silence “in private”.
A minute is not long, given how much Boris Johnson could contemplate; but this prime minister is not very thoughtful. In that minute, your thoughts won’t stray much beyond immediate electoral gratification. You can secretly contemplate how truly remarkable it is that despite the fact that tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily when her phobia of the “babysitting state” prevented her from acting on time, her popularity is increasing by the day thanks to the vaccine. You can reflect on your luck that the EU vaccination errors came just at the right time to “prove” you were right on Brexit.
Against all odds, Covid has done Johnson a political favor, so far. The need to splurge, as all similar countries have done to keep their economies afloat, has helped it appear to be shaking off the shadows of Cameron / Osborne austerity. He can pose as a magnanimous king throwing gold coins from his carriage, especially on trips to his newly conquered northern kingdoms. However, a lot can go wrong: As another wave of Covid sweeps across Europe, this half-vaccinated country is unlikely to escape another wave.
The hope is that the deaths will be much less than before; But without adequate sick pay, families already in debt cannot afford to isolate themselves. As unemployment rises, it is expected to reach 7%Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that our social security payments are “staggeringly low,” just 13% of average earnings for a single unemployed person, compared to 50% in comparable countries. Britain has paid a penalty on its high Covid casualty rate for that long-standing pettiness – it’s one reason for the miserable test-and-trace history for those infected and their contacts to stay home.
Will the prime minister reflect on what comes next? Once the Covid tide recedes, when the euphoria of freedom soon passes, there will be no way to disguise the state of the country. The pandemic has multiplied its social dislocations and magnified its extreme inequalities, without any repair plan. Instead, coming to light, the Johnson administration will impose austerity on stilts.
An IFS report last week revealed huge hidden cuts “buried in the budget, not mentioned in the chancellor’s speech.” The next few years will be a carbon copy of post-2010 austerity, with a huge bonus 8% reduction to most public services, worse this time for adding to the last lost decade and the damage caused by this crisis. Despite claims that the NHS and schools are “protected”, they will not feel that way; They are only owed the same funds as those prior to the planned pandemic, “despite the enormous challenges these departments will face.” There is no money for repairs. Forget Johnson’s “build back better” rhetoric, reality, grounded in his spending plans, will hit most departments with even deeper cuts.
As in the last period of austerity, the big ax is being delegated to the local government. “It is difficult to see how further cuts to local government could be reconciled with a coherent leveling agenda,” writes Ben Zaranko, author of the IFS report. At some point, Johnson, the great “leveler,” will have a hard time explaining this assault on councils, both north and south, further stripping him of social and child care, handicap services, parks, and all amenities. local. However, in local elections enthusiastic about vaccines this May, he may well get away with it.
His distraction technique will be a mix-up of local announcements for Boris-branded capital projects, like nice reopens for the multitude of rail lines closed by Beeching in Okehampton or Stocksbridge. City councils, haunted by the loss of funds for the basics, are invited to compete for heaps of money for flashy extras. Tony Travers of the LSE lists 30 small honeypots, from a cultural investment fund and an ecological recovery challenge to better cities and a fund of transforming cities. Even a large council like Leeds, says its leader, James Lewis, lacks the additional administrative staff to handle multiple complex applications. “Offers should be ready by June, but we need basic financing, not extras.” However, Johnson’s “leveling up” has to do with optics.
Before embarking on his cuts, it is doubtful that the prime minister will reflect on the damage already done since 2010. On the eve of the pandemic, Torsten Bell of the Resolution Foundation laid out the post-1979 story of inequality: the living standards of those who They live in the lowest income had fallen further since 2010, as colossal annual benefit cuts of £ 34bn have caused the bottom 20% to lose a tenth of their income. Child poverty, Bell warned, would reach nearly 5 million children by 2024. School food banks are a shocking new phenomenon.
As for the shabby state of public services, Britain was unprepared last March, lacking the capacity to recover from crises. “Unlike other countries, all of our utilities run hot, all the time,” says Paul Johnson. Just before Covid’s arrival, he estimated that £ 60bn would be needed just to get back to 2010 levels of public services. Hospital A&E departments were already in a permanent winter crisis; and schools had lost 8% of funding, lacked music, theater, art, and school trips, with breakfasts and after-school clubs closed. And that was before Covid hit the poorest hardest.
Michael Marmot, the renowned epidemiologist of health inequalities, recalls how helpless we were, with Public Health England’s budget cut by 40% since 2012, and £ 700 million in real terms of public health at the local authority level between 2014-15 and 2019-20. He records the poorest families suffering the most from Covid – in deaths, ill health, lost jobs, scarred lives and damaged education – though the The full scope of this was hidden using misleading national averages.
In his reflections, our prime minister only considers impacts on fringe constituencies. Covid has hit London the hardest: even though the City’s streets are paved with gold, it has the worst poverty and has suffered the most job losses, but it has few seats for it. Young people who have sacrificed the most risk being largely ignored for the same reason, Johnson’s votes are with the elderly. Don’t expect it to catch up with the public: the IFS warns that its plans will make “the first half of the 2020s look a lot like the first half of the 2010s.”
At the moment, many delusional thinkers are reimagining the nature of this country, hoping that somehow no one will accept a return to the old British ways. There’s too much airy optimism: So far, evidence of a change of mind is scant. Consider King’s College London’s in-depth research into public thinking, which revealed an essential toughness of attitudes: Almost half believe the culprits are those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Reflecting on everything that was lost in the last year, be afraid of all the losses to come. How long will it be before voters, who have been promised not to return to austerity, pick up on Johnson’s wiles? Sooner rather than later they will discover that the shiny coins thrown from their carriage are just basic metal, the glitzy just trinkets.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism