We are in crisis. The media tell us that the country, if not the entire world, is facing the biggest crisis of a generation. That’s a pretty scary prospect for a lot of people. We’ve seen denial, worry, fear, panic and confusion amongst the population. People are frightened, they are worried about their jobs, their health, their families, paying their bills and keeping a roof over their head. It’s a trying time, particularly for those that have never experienced a crisis before.
I had a brief chat with a friend online today who asked how I was coping. I told her, honestly, I’m fine. I’ve been through worse. I might not have experienced a pandemic before, but I’ve certainly experienced crisis. The difference with this one is everyone else is going through it as well. I don’t have to shoulder the weight of it on my own. As crises go, this one is (pardon the pun) a walk in the park.
The truth is for me and my community, we were plunged into crisis in 2010 when the new Tory government began the systematic destruction of the safety net we are all one pay cheque away from relying upon. Blair, Brown and New Labour had their own share of problems. However, the most important legacy of the 1997-2010 Labour government was the significant fall in child and pensioner poverty. A whole generation of children were well nourished, educated and cared for in new ways. Jobs were created, businesses started and working class communities flourished. We really had never had it so good.
The 2008 financial crash (remember that one) was never the fault of working class people. But with slight of hand and copious misdirection from the Tory party, it was decided that to bail out the bankers, the state would no longer prop up those that needed it’s support. The eradication of the welfare state targeted pensioners, working families, disabled people, the chronically ill, women close to retirement, any one with a spare bedroom and those struggling to find work in a shrinking economy. It took all of these people with their varied lives, valuable lived experiences and myriad of skills then re-branded them as work shy, scrounging degenerates who weren’t fit to lick the boots of the rest of society. The media happily fed us the government narrative and vulnerable people in their hour of need were stripped of their support systems and denied the help they relied on. The benefits system became at best, not fit for purpose and at worst, a state sponsored cull of the poor.
My community has been in crisis for a decade. So many lives have been unnecessarily lost. And now, that the rest of society is in need, we find that the money to fund the NHS was there all along. That the sanctions and waiting times for essential benefits could be removed and that facilitating home working was possible. For those people evicted from their homes, forced into zero hour jobs with no employment rights, denied essential care and the families of those who starved to death or took their own lives waiting for benefits or, like my own mother, died within a year of being found fit for work; this is not a crisis. This is hopefully an awakening to the rest of the country to the huge gaps we have in supporting the vulnerable.
Watch the news, see the growing number of people dying from COVID-19. Discuss the governments response to help people and the restriction of movement needed to curb the spread of infection. Talk about the things we can do as a society to help each other. But don’t forget, some of us have been living in crisis for most of our adult lives. Most people did not care about the support in place when it wasn’t happening to them. Society was complicit in the crisis of austerity. Make this a turning point. Never again.