In normal circumstances, the political turmoil of a government and their advisors would not be ‘breaking news’, and I wouldn’t feel any compulsion to discuss it. Not so the case of Dominic Cummings. There has never been a more divisive special adviser to the Prime Minister than him.
From the lies that helped achieve the ‘leave’ vote in the 2016 EU referendum, to flouting the Covid national lockdown rules set by his own team, he has throughout his time in Westminster, shown an incredible degree of arrogance, with his ‘one rule for them, another for me’ attitude.
He should have been sacked on the spot when his lockdown breach was uncovered in May; instead, he spouted absurd lies about testing his eyesight by driving to Barnard Castle. This is widely regarded as the time he went from the ‘rose garden to ridicule’. However, the Prime Minister clung to his special advisor defending the indefensible and at the same time losing control and public confidence and any authority it had in his handling of the coronavirus situation.
Now halfway into the month-long lockdown, it seems that cases in the South East are increasing again, and we are yet to see any impact from this current shutdown. Some scientists are predicting that the return of students to their hometowns may also lead to a slight rise in Coronavirus cases, despite the planned self-isolation period and travel window. We don’t yet know what sort of Christmas we will have this year, but regardless of the government advice, I, like so many of you, won’t be visiting my elderly mother for fear of contagion. This Christmas will be very different to any that went before.
There has of course been some positive news, with the vaccine trials from Pfizer–BionTech, Moderna and the Oxford vaccine showing a high level of effectiveness. Hopefully, we can begin to look forward to better times in the spring of 2021.
Next week brings the much–anticipated government spending review, and UNISON has been asking that the government put public services front and foremost of this, with our ‘No going back to normal’ campaign, and our demands for an early pay rise for NHS staff. If you haven not already done so, please write to your MP and urge them to support our NHS pay claim. I was angered to read of a leaked plan to reintroduce car parking charges in some NHS trusts when NHS staff are risking their lives and doing all they can to avoid spreading the virus to patients by avoiding public transport. Their parking must remain free of charge.
It has been refreshing to hear the stories of some of our young members during Young Workers Month, and as one of the fastest–growing recruitment areas of the union, it is vital that we all work together to support our young members to become active in their union, UNISON. Young workers work across all sectors of the economy including on the frontline of the pandemic, working in the NHS, caring for the elderly and vulnerable and keeping our essential public services running.
But we know that all too often young people are undervalued in the workplace. Many are working on casual insecure contracts and worried about losing their jobs, have little in the way of development opportunities and more and more training programmes are being cut, and apprenticeships schemes paused. Without government action unemployment among young people will soar; They are already the hardest hit age demographic for the current economic downturn.
We must ensure that post-pandemic, young members have a bright future to look forward to, and that they don’t get left behind. We have almost 5000 young members in the South East region, so please listen to the young members in your branch, find out how we can support them and ensure they know of the training and networking opportunities available to them in UNISON. They really are the future, and we must all make every effort to support and develop them and in doing so we secure protections at work and in society for future generations.
Keep safe, and thank you for all that you do.