Matt Hancock Pippa Fowles & No10 Downing Street & cc
Matt Hancock Pippa Fowles & No10 Downing Street & cc

100,000 WhatsApp messages from Matt Hancock – the Tory health secretary during the Covid pandemic – have been leaked. Here, two Socialist Party members respond, and explain what key workers and trade unionists were really doing during the crisis.

Social care worker: ‘I saw people die’

Dan Smart, Social worker in adult care

These leaks confirm the Tories’ catastrophic handling of the crisis. And they stress what those working in the social care sector already know, that the Tories put profit above public safety.

As a newly qualified social worker in adult care during the Covid crisis, I saw people who could no longer remain at home, entering care homes only to catch the virus and die shortly after.

Impossible decision

I remember no tests being available for people with learning disabilities going into supported living. This created the impossible decision of either leaving someone at risk at home, or potentially infecting multiple other vulnerable people. There was a 175% rise in the number of unexpected deaths of people with learning disabilities and autism from April to May 2020.

Matt Hancock assured us that he had put a ‘protective ring’ around care homes, to shield those most at risk of the virus. But, as shown in the messages, he ignored advice from Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty saying there should be “testing of all [people] going into care homes”.

Bafflingly, Matt Hancock said in private that testing community admissions would “muddy the waters”. Community testing wasn’t introduced until August 2020. In this gap, 17,678 died of Covid in care homes.

Another series of messages shows the Tories’ privileged arrogance. Hancock arranged for the child of Tory cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg to get a prioritised Covid test, when there were mass shortages. An aide messaged Hancock to say: “We’ve got a courier going to their family home tonight… courier will take it straight to the lab. Should have result tomorrow AM.”

These revelations reinforce that the Tories ignored scientific advice which could have saved thousands of lives, failed to plan for social care, prioritised the market and profits over people’s health, and were mired in self-interest and corruption.

Democratic control

The Socialist Party calls for full public ownership of the social care sector, with democratic control by workers, service users and the community. Armed with scientific advice, these ‘frontline’ experts – carers, social workers, nurses and so on, who were putting their own lives at risk throughout the pandemic to support those most in need – would ensure that decisions are made by and for those they directly affect.

Action by school workers and unions saved lives

Jane Nellist was part of the National Education Union (NEU) health and safety organising forum during the pandemic.

Matt Hancock should have remembered the old saying: “Be sure your sins will find you out”. His WhatsApp messages reveal what we knew all along – the absolute contempt that he and others showed education workers and trade unions. We especially came under fire from them during the height of the pandemic.

Then education secretary, Gavin Williamson, states in one WhatsApp message, in reference to a request for PPE for schools: “So they can’t use it as a reason not to open… Some will just want to say they can’t so they have an excuse to avoid having to teach.”

Scandalous profiteering

School staff, health workers, and others were demanding PPE to protect themselves. We now know the extent of the scandalous profiteering and fraud with PPE contracts.

£4 billion of useless PPE has been destroyed – what an utter waste. That money could have been invested into making schools safer.

These leaks have caused real anger and hurt throughout the education sector for a number of reasons:

Schools immediately ensured that children of key workers and vulnerable pupils attended school during lockdown

We set up online learning – even though there were shortages of laptops for pupils

We ensured that every child entitled to a free school meal had that delivered

We checked on pupil’s welfare, and countless other measures to meet their needs, despite government inaction

In another exchange, Matt Hancock states: “What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are”, and Gavin Williamson replies: “I know they really do hate work”. 

Trade union health and safety reps and officers supported staff to ensure that risk assessments were in place. We worked with local authorities to ensure that all appropriate measures were taken in schools to safeguard staff and pupils – with adequate cleaning, social distancing and PPE. We also had to fight to ensure that vulnerable staff, and those with vulnerable family members, could work from home, to prevent transmission.

Huge step

By January 2021, Covid infection rates soared. NEU members took the huge step of using Section 44 of the Employment Act – refusing to work in an unsafe environment. It wasn’t helped that we were opposed by the Tories and the Labour Party led by Keir Starmer.

The fact is, despite the many failures of the government, education workers, supported by their unions, with fully researched, evidence-based guidance, saved many lives. The heart of the government’s policies during the pandemic was never really about protecting communities, but about protecting the profits of the capitalist class. Those responsible must be held to account by the working class.