This Sunday sees us celebrate the 72nd birthday of the NHS. The role of the NHS in the Covid-19 crisis has really shone a positive spotlight on our essential UNISON members, who have worked endless hours throughout, caring for others. The public has been appreciative of public service workers during the worst days of the crisis and will surely be raising a glass (or a cup of tea) to thank NHS and other essential workers this weekend.
UNISON will be joining in the celebrations over the weekend, culminating in a birthday Clap for Carers at 5pm on Sunday. UNISON East Midlands will also be hosting an online festival in the afternoon on Facebook, which is free to all to attend. Let’s come together across the regions and nations to celebrate our NHS.
The crisis has had a disproportionate effect on the lives of many of our Black members working in the Care sector and NHS, and this, combined with the Black Lives Matter protests, brings together two strands of UNISON’s priorities – defending public services and fighting for equality. In our region, we are inviting all Black activists to a webinar and Q&A later this month, to discuss the Public Health England report, Black Lives Matter, and to get together to organise for equality in the workplace and beyond. Please encourage Black activists in your branch to register for this event; panelists include Assistant General Secretary, Roger McKenzie, and Chair of the Regional Black Members Committee, Rosita Ellis.
The UK economy has also taken a massive hit due to the pandemic, and I have real fears for the months to come. There are currently 9.3 million workers furloughed, plus another 2.6 million accessing the self-employed support scheme. That is almost 12 million people who are presently on government–supported employment retention schemes. There are real fears that many of these will go directly from the support schemes to the unemployment register when the schemes come to an end in October.
The Public sector will not be immune to any downturn; we are already starting to see these effects in the Business and Environment sector with redundancies, and our Higher education is facing a financial crisis, with a steep decline in overseas students, and ongoing uncertainty in education following the cancellation of A’ Levels this year. While we hope the worst is over with Covid-19, the aftershock will be long–lasting and deeply felt.
Covid-19 has magnified the crisis in social care, a sector that has been long neglected and on a cliff edge for many years. UNISON is now joined by many other voices in calling for a national care service, with decent pay, terms and conditions for carers, and underpinned by democratic accountability. Too many lives have been lost due to the chronic underfunding of social care, and this must never happen again.
Although the country is beginning to open up again, there are still large numbers of new cases each day, and too many daily deaths (176 at the time of writing) from this virus. Leicester’s extended local lockdown will not be an isolated case. In the South East, Medway has been highlighted as an area where cases are spiking, fingers crossed those will ease.
The Prime Minister’s ‘Rooseveltian’ speech this week failed on many levels. Hailed as a promise to rebuild the country, it was largely a case of re-badging existing spending pledges, and a pittance compared to what the country needs. We need a bigger, bolder, 1945-style house building plan to re–energise the economy, the likes of which has only ever been delivered by a Labour government.
This weekend, you can return to your local for a pint, or to your hairdresser for a much-needed trim. The first steps towards ‘normality’ will be enjoyed by many and are welcome. However, we must continue to be vigilant with safety measures and not undo all the hard work of our public services throughout the crisis. Let’s enjoy seeing our friends again safely.
Stay safe and well