JULIE ELLIOTT: The government must do more to alleviate distrust in its public health message
Whilst the Covid-19 crisis has brought many issues in society to the fore, be it underfunding of the Health Services or the lack of support for our care system, many problems were prevalent before this crisis came about that need long term solutions not short-term measures.
A decade of Conservative austerity, cuts to local council funding, cuts to education and to health has meant that we went into this crisis with widespread precarity in work, a struggling Universal Credit system, and prevalent long-term unemployment.
It is no wonder therefore that the government’s long-standing austerity measures, and its unwillingness to go into lockdown early enough, will contribute to the UK being hit by one of the hardest economic downturns in the world.
This plan for jobs is presented in relation to the Covid-19 crisis, but is situated within a context that shows a steady rise in employment and youth employment from before the crisis, that has been constant and worrying.
There are, on average, three times more applicants for each vacant job in the North East than in London, so it is therefore no surprise that economic hardship would hit communities such as ours much harder going into this crisis.
This is why in the North East, the Universal Credit claimant count has gone up by a massive 71%, and in Sunderland itself raised by 58%, since February, and while the government may talk up its commitment to funding an increase in support for the unemployed, it cannot hide the fact the at the Department for Work and Pensions has been cut by around half in real terms since 2010. A lot of the current investment is making up for deliberate cuts and under investment prior to this crisis.
The government’s plan for jobs announced today is a first step, but it is only a first step. This investment by the government in jobs, retail and hospitality is only of benefit if Coronavirus is halted, and if public trust is high enough in government public health advice to feel comfortable about going out to work or to visit places, whilst being safe doing so. The government simply must do more in alleviate distrust in its public health message to avoid a second peak, or the economic hardship will only get worse.