As I write, the official daily figures for new Covid-19 infections are around 1500 per day, with just under 200 deaths each day. These figures are still very high. We have the second-highest death toll per million of population in the world, a league table that we should be ashamed to top. We are still not through the other side of this crisis, despite the Government’s push to reopen for business.
This Government have lost any authority they ever had over the Dominic Cummings debacle, breaking their own lockdown rules and silencing the scientists. People have interpreted that as, ‘if they don’t follow the rules, why should we’. Now folk pay less heed to social distancing and are far more relaxed at being out and about.
We can now see the ‘R rate’ on a regional breakdown, in the densely populated South–East the ‘R rate’ is between 0.8 and 1.0 – which is a very narrow foundation upon which to open more workplaces, shops and schools.
The crisis has taken its toll on our members working on the frontline, emotionally and physically. We have sadly lost several UNISON members and activists in the region to Covid-19, many of whom were working on the frontline in the NHS and care sector. It was apparent to me at an early stage when writing to their families, what has now been confirmed by the Public Health England report, that our Black members are more negatively affected by this terrible virus. Around three–quarters of the members we have lost were from Black communities. While the Government has acknowledged the disproportionate impact, they still don’t have a plan for how to deal with it and are failing Black communities once again. However, the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests around the country are inspiring; it feels as though there is a real appetite for change across society and for more decisive steps to be taken in tackling institutional racism.
On a more positive note, It is heartening to hear of the successful drugs trial led by Oxford University, that has identified that administering a low dose steroid treatment to the sickest Covid-19 patients, results in saving approximately a third of patients from death. Without our universities undertaking such vital research, breakthroughs such as this would take much longer. It’s just one of the reasons why UNISON is calling on the Government to act now to protect higher education.
With the many redundancy announcements across all work sectors, it looks likely that the economy will not recover quickly from the effects of the pandemic. We would be foolish to believe that public services will be exempt from this, particularly when we hear of the large deficits in local government budgets through lost revenue of business rates and car parking charges during the lockdown. As a union, we are in a strong position right now, but we need to maintain our strength and visibility for the undoubtedly rocky road ahead. I am pleased to inform you that from next Monday, UNISON will be running TV ads across main channels through till 19 July to bolster our recruitment efforts and profile.
It’s no surprise to us that the Government have rowed back on the plans to open primary schools to more children until at least September. The vast number of new members in schools who have joined us since Johnson’s announcement back in May, shows just how worried school staff were about the Prime Minister’s reckless mishandling of the crisis.
We welcomed yet another u-turn by the Government on free school meals and must congratulate footballer Marcus Rashford on using his platform to affect positive change. He is one of us, and recognises the difference that this will make to so many families, having himself once been a recipient of free school meals. Now 1.3 million children will continue to have a healthy lunch during the summer.
June is Pride month, when we would typically be supporting Pride events around the region, cancelled due to Covid-19. This does not mean that LGBT+ rights should be overlooked or forgotten about, and the pandemic crisis has heightened feelings of isolation for many members of the LGBT+ community. As we mark Pride month at a distance this year, will continue to ensure that equality is now, and always will be at the heart of our union, UNISON.
Thank you again, for all that you continue to do, under the most difficult of circumstances.
Stay safe and well.