R rate increase makes this a crunch week

The Virus is still very much with us. The R rate for London is back up to 0.95 from the 0.4 that was being cited just last week. The lowest rate in the country is back up to 0.89 – very dangerous territory and becoming more so.

If this government – which has presided over one of the worst death rates in the world – continues reopening the economy despite this increase in the R rate, it is declaring that it is putting profits above people; and that their strategy for the second wave is to “let it rip” (as Martin Wolf of the FT puts it). 
Its clear from what they have done during the crisis what the government will do after the crisis (or, more to the point, during its second phase). 

They have used it as an opportunity to divert resources away from the NHS into private provision in a way that has made the services provided incoherent and inefficient; and the result has been lost lives.

Why set up track and trace though outsourcing to SERCO when you can do it through GPs – which would have worked better? Why outsource tests to US labs – which makes turn round times absurdly slow – rather than using resources in the NHS?

They will seek to divert the costs of recovery onto Local Authorities by not funding them to cover the additional costs. These will not be cuts to the bone, but cuts through it.

The “stimulus package” that they have provided during the crisis has been to save companies not jobs. George Osborne is now arguing that – because smaller scale private companies will be unable to survive without it – the state will have to subsidise them – with no strings or social obligations attached; and that the cost of doing so will have to be borne by the rest of us; in the same way that we paid up to keep the bankers in the manner to which they were accustomed after 2008. That will mean a significant transfer of wealth from those least able to afford it to those who already have more than they know what to do with. That is why Stock Markets have been booming during this crisis. They see the outcome as potentially profitable.

There is a clear alternative. No funding for companies that avoid tax, underpay workers, or refuse to meet environmental obligations is a bottom line. But state led direct investment in the green transition has to be the backbone of ant recovery that actually allows us to recover. If we don’t do that, recovery from COVID19 is just giving us a little while longer before civilisation crashes and burns under the impact of global heating. We should all be pushing that alternative. Check out the Build Back Better Campaign being launched on Monday by 80 different organisations from Greenpeace and FOE to the NEU, UKSCN, UNISON, PCS, MEDACT and many more. https://www.buildbackbetteruk.org/

Already, companies – like BA – are beginning to offer workers a choice between losing their jobs or being kept on on cut wages. The reduction in government support for the furlough scheme will bring a rush of these. If this becomes widespread it means a) poverty and b) a longer recession – because people with lower incomes buy fewer goods, which leads to lower demand and so on down into a depressionary spiral.

These measures have been much more common in the US up to now – which may be one reason why discontent with their government has exploded more spectacularly than it has with ours so far (though there are obviously other reasons, not least the failings of US private health care, the failure of the state to provide income support during lockdowns and, of course the structural racism that runs through US society and policing).

The government will attempt to divert attention from their failures by blaming a few thousand young people going on Black Lives Matter demos for the rise in the R rate; even though the government is getting millions of people to go back to work. Tube journeys were up by 10% in London within two days of the government easing restrictions.

These spontaneous demonstrations of anger and fear are partly an expression of the grotesque discriminatory effects of the virus in the UK as well as the US, hitting communities that are worse off, live in more overcrowded conditions, often have poorer health and disproportionately work in front line services (even without the scandal that BAME health workers have been disproportionately deployed on COVID wards and found it harder to get PPE).

So standing with BAME communities this week is also urgent.

The government is on thin ice. Johnson’s approval rating is in very sharp decline. The extent to which they can get away with any of the above will depend on the extent to which they run into opposition.

So hitting them hard in the immediate crisis over the increasing R rate is crucial.

Everyone, as an individual or part of every organisation we are in should

1 Call for an immediate pause to lifting lockdown restrictions – as lifting the restrictions lifts the death rate. 

2 Councils should advise schools to delay widening access until the R rate is manageable.

3 Support the Stand Up to Racism take the knee demos at home every Wednesday at 6pm and support the online rally on Sunday. Details here. http://www.standuptoracism.org.uk/taketheknee-next-actions-after-major-day-of-action-involving-thousands/

The National Education Union has opposed wider school reopening precisely because the R level is too high (and testing, tracking and isolation is not in place). As a result, it has strengthened as an organisation – with an additional 20 000 members joining up and 2 000 of them coming forward as school Reps. more importantly, its campaign – leading the other education unions, has significantly pushed the government’s schedule off course, thereby slowing down the increase in the R rate, which would have been even worse if all schools had done what the government wanted; and thereby saved lives.

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