As the UK’s daily hospital death toll hovers around the 1,000 mark, the prime minister recovers from coronavirus, and PPE equipment provision varies so wildly that some nurses take to wearing bin bags, it’s hard to stay positive.
But, in the spirit of trying to be positive during these dark days for our country and many families, let’s try to imagine a future after the outbreak’s successful suppression.
Here is my own (non-exhaustive) 6-point manifesto of what I personally think needs to happen as soon as we have survived the pandemic:
A pay rise for all public sector workers
The initial outpouring of appreciation for NHS and other key workers at 8PM every Thursday I found incredibly moving. However, I’ll view following weekly rounds of applause as shallow if the general public doesn’t agitate for minimum 3% above inflation pay rises for all public sector workers when things return to normal.
Preferably, this would continue for the rest of the parliamentary term. However, if not for all public sector workers, then at least all frontline NHS workers.
A long-term change which would also be welcome is a greater appreciation for care workers, often described as unskilled. They are far from that. Perhaps a separate care worker minimum wage could be introduced, say £2 per hour above the normal minimum wage rate?
Real Reform of the Railways
Early in the lockdown, the government quietly suspended the rail franchise system.
It’s not the first time the government has had to intervene. For some time, Northern Rail was set to be renationalised due to generally poor service. In fact, three years ago, the Commons Transport Committee concluded that the rail franchise was ‘no longer fit for purpose’.
While keeping wholesale nationalisation may not be the perfect answer, it would be better than the status quo before COVID-19. Equally, the currently derisory £500mn allocated for the Beeching Reversal Fund needs to be increased 40 fold.
Homelessness Must Be Tackled With Compassion and Funding
Overnight, councils were ordered in England to find accommodation for homeless people. This followed an earlier extra £3.2mn emergency funding to help rough sleepers to self-isolate.
Funding has gone in the right direction in recent years, but even more is needed. Above all, we must tackle homelessness with compassion.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran previously introduced a bill into parliament to abolish the 1824 Vagrancy Act which leads to approximately 1300 people being prosecuted for sleeping rough every year.
This act should be abolished as well as funding increased.
End Disgraceful Low Rates of Statutory Sick Pay
At the start of the crisis, when people were being encouraged to self-isolate of their own accord, there was significant scrutiny of sick pay rates. To my shame, I was ignorant before of how appallingly low the UK statutory sick pay rate is, at only £95.85 per week.
While our statutory sick pay does last longer than most European countries, it still takes time from someone applying to receiving it and it’s simply not good enough.
It should be raised by at least a third to around £130 a week. Even then, it would be on the lower side of most other European countries.
The planned 2022 Festival of Britain Should be Embraced as an Opportunity to Revive British Culture and Sport
There’s little doubt that culture and sporting venues and performers will suffer particularly during this lockdown, being so dependent on audiences for revenue.
Now, when I talk about those who have suffered in these fields, I’m not talking about the people at the very top. For example, I have absolutely no sympathy for overpaid top male football stars like Kyle Walker, who incidentally breached the lockdown by hosting a sex party, having to take wage deferrals or 20-30% pay cuts.
But the backroom staff, lower divisions players, local artists and theatres? They have it tough.
Why not turn the already planned in the diary 2022 Festival of Britain, into a great celebration of Britain’s sport and culture, focused on elevating the status of junior sport sides and artists?
The Music Venues Trust has called for the Festival’s allocated funding to be transferred instead to the immediate needs of the industry.
I have sympathy for this, though I still think the pencilled-in 2022 Festival should be held. It could provide a boost to culture and sports and perhaps additionally showcase sustainable practice in the hosting of large, nationwide events.
The WHO Equally Needs Reform and Proper Funding
President Trump has accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of treating the US ‘unfairly’. Further criticism has been levelled at the organisation for being ‘China-centric’, or too accepting of initial Chinese medical advice which stated that COVID-19 was not transmissible human to human.
Some criticisms I think are unjustified, although it is hard to not be contemptuous of the WHO official who pretended not to hear a question about the inclusion of Taiwan in the organisation in the wake of the pandemic.
Trump’s suggestion though, to withhold funding, is idiotic, to say the least.
Instead, more funding needs to be provided to the WHO, not less. And that includes the UK. Currently, we pay just under $11 million a year. We should further increase that. The WHO helps provide essential leadership and advice to governments during public health crises.
It’s also strategically challenged in the way it spends what limited resources it has by its dependency on unreliable ‘voluntary donations’, compared to compulsory member contributions.
All countries of the world should look to commit to pay higher compulsory figures to the WHO, but the WHO should also be granted the ability to deal with and invite in some capacity de facto governments as well, from disputed regions of the world.
Those are my top 6 UK policies in a post COVID-19 world. What would yours be?