A milestone nobody wanted to reach

With over 100,00 deaths due to Covid in the UK, the emotional toll will be far-reaching and long lasting, both for the bereaved and UNISON members working through the pandemic

Reaching the milestone of over 100,000 deaths due to Covid this week is a milestone that nobody wanted to reach and something that the government by a combination of their action and inaction has direct responsibility for.

It is a badge of shame for the government, a disaster caused by their dither and delay. There is likely not a single family in the UK that has not been touched by the pandemic’s effects now. It could have been so different, had the government response been better, at every stage of the last twelve months.

The emotional toll that this is taking, on everyone involved in caring for those with Covid, will be far reaching and long lasting. It will take years for NHS and care staff to recover fully. We continue our campaign for a decent pay rise for NHS staff, which would help to boost morale among staff as they face unprecedented pressure this year. I invite you to join me in signing the open letter to the Chancellor asking for a decent pay rise in the March budget. In addition to a pay rise though, it will be vital that all workers involved in caring for the sick during the pandemic, have proper support when we eventually emerge from this nightmare.

This week I was very sorry to hear of the loss of an activist from the Surrey Police branch, Sean Amey, who was just 52 years old. This serves as a reminder that our members in the police service are also on the frontline of the crisis. I have written to the family to offer the region’s condolences.

It is heartening to read that over 10% of the adult population have now received their first dose of the vaccine. It is a testament to the NHS for their ability to deliver on this, it should be noted that the undoubted success is without private contractor involvement! I do, however, share the concerns of others in the medical and scientific community that delaying the second dose to 12 weeks should be reviewed, particularly with the Pfizer vaccine, where the data thus far does not support this 12-week gap.

We heard this week of the proposal to reopen schools to all students at some point after March 8. This should only happen with a workable test & trace system in place, and with school staff prioritised in the next phase of the vaccine programme. The government must use this time before full reopening to make schools safer.

Next week sees the start of the NEC nomination period, and we encourage as many branches as possible to take part in this important democratic process of the union. Branches need to advise the region at least seven days in advance of holding a nomination meeting, so that a regional member of staff can attend to oversee the process. For full information on the election procedures, you can visit the national website.

Our own regional democratic meetings continue to be held virtually, and we are now in the final stages of preparing for the Regional Council AGM, taking place on February 20. Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, it’s great that so many branches have registered this year and we look forward to meeting you all virtually next month. In addition, the regional self-organised groups have all held or arranged their AGMs, ensuring that all voices are heard from across the whole union.

Regional staff came together virtually this week to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, as I am sure many branches did too. As we reflected on the atrocities of the holocaust, we also looked to the future. We vowed to always be at the forefront of the battle against anti-semitism and continue to challenge racial hatred in all forms. As trade unionists, we must always be the light.

Stay safe everyone.