Thursday 16 April 2020

Divide and conquer?

There might, somewhere, be a satirist who had a fleeting thought that having a minister, whose utter incompetence led to care workers being obliged to risk their lives daily by working without PPE, suggest that those workers should be given a badge instead of a decent salary and proper PPE might raise a smile.  But he or she would probably have dismissed the idea almost immediately as lacking the scintilla of plausibility which makes for good satire. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the Health Minister doesn’t employ any satirists to help him decide whether something is funny or not.  It also appears that he doesn’t employ any advisors with enough sense to warn him when he’s had a particularly silly idea which will make him and the government of which he is a part appear stupid and callous as well as incompetent.
We shouldn’t, though, judge this particular idea in isolation; it is part of a pattern of thinking coming from the conservative part of the political spectrum which thinks that it can ‘reward’ people with tokens, gestures, and clapping, pass the costs of the crisis onto those who can least afford it, and continue to treat many of those who are taking the risk as unwelcome temporary visitors who can be encouraged to return ‘home’ when they’re no longer required. There are plenty of voices arguing that things cannot return to ‘normal’ when this is all over but reinforcing that old ‘normal’ is what the political ‘right’ are busily trying to do, day in and day out. The idea that the financial racketeers at the heart of the UK economy will willingly agree to doing anything differently in the future is one for the birds.
A fortnight ago, the Low Pay Commission (which I had mistakenly thought existed to try and deal with low pay rather than justify it) suggested that the crisis means that the government “could be forced to abandon targets for ending low pay in Britain by raising the legal minimum wage”.  Yes, that’s right – the lowest paid in our society should continue to be paid very low wages in order to cover the costs of dealing with the virus pandemic.
Earlier this week, the Social Market Foundation called for an end to the ‘triple-lock’ on the state pension, effectively meaning that the poorest pensioners (those dependent solely on the state pension) would see future rises in what is one of the lowest state pensions in Europe be set at a lower level. Their argument is that “…the economic costs of responding to the crisis shared fairly across the generations”, which sounds reasonable enough until one tries to define what ‘fairly’ actually means. (Clue: the paper, available here, does not define the term, but merely asserts that intergenerational fairness requires that older people should repay the kindness shown to them by working age people who have protected them during the pandemic by forgoing an element of future pension increases.)
At the same time, the UK Government has made clear that it is pushing ahead, even during the pandemic, with plans for immigration controls which would exclude many of the NHS  and care workers on whom we are currently reliant, branding them ‘low-skilled’, and oblige even those who are accepted to pay a much higher price for using the NHS services which they are themselves providing.
Taken together, it’s a classic strategy, which reminds me of this cartoon which often does the rounds on social media:

If working people can be persuaded that the enemies are the low-paid, pensioners and immigrants, they will pick on them instead of looking at where the real inequalities lie. Instead of looking at other people who are also losing, we should be looking at who gains. And who might that be, I wonder? Oh look – it’s the same people who always come out on top; how surprising! Tory donors, hedge fund managers, and those who speculate at our expense. Those who argue that things must be different after the pandemic need to start by recognising the real enemies and not allow them to divide us amongst ourselves.


Anonymous said...

I understand that any care worker that wants one of these badges has to pay for them. The price set means they have to work for more than an hour for anyone working on the minimum wage.

Unknown Soldier said...

I don't know what to tell you but I'll tell you what I know our past and present leadership are a bunch of so-and-so's
they've got a bunch of money and they spend it out of hand then stand around and tell you we've got another plan. I don't know what to tell you but I'll tell you what I know. the news puts on a show and it's really quite a show. we watch them dance this way and then spin about you think they'd get tired but on and on they go. I don't know what to tell you but I'll tell you what I know.