Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1078/30435
Councils must break austerity rules to fight coronavirus
Nick Chaffey, Southampton Socialist Party
As the Champagne flowed in the corporate entertainment boxes at Cheltenham Racecourse, austerity-hit councils were waking up to the frightening reality of Covid-19, and how to ensure the vulnerable will be safe and get the care they need.
All the cuts of the last decade are showing the weaknesses of the care system, particularly the impact on the poorest in working-class communities - unable to eat well, or isolated and unable to take care of themselves.
The welfare safety net which the working class fought so hard for has been shredded by cuts. When a crisis appears, we are left stranded.
Councils are in a key position to act rapidly to address the needs of our communities. Labour councils, in conjunction with the local trade unions, must establish an immediate battle plan for addressing those needs, and demand immediate government funding to resource them.
The most urgent tasks are for those with symptoms to be tested immediately, cared for, and quarantined to help prevent the spread of the virus. In conjunction with local NHS hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries, council care facilities should be set up for this purpose.
If the government won't do so, councils should move to requisition any needed private sector resources, including care homes, hospitals and hotels. Would the Tories really dare to oppose councils taking such action in this crisis?
Staff shortages, particularly of skilled nursing and social care teams, are a result of a decade of austerity. Many leave the health service early due to the intolerable working conditions. Appealing for former staff to return will work best if linked to permanent funding to reverse austerity, privatisation, understaffing, and related problems.
It is more than likely schools will be closed. This will put enormous pressures on poor families who rely on free school meals. Suspend all school cuts. Councils must use their reserves and borrowing powers to set up emergency hardship funds - and demand that Westminster foots the bill.
The Tories have raised the prospect of thousands of volunteer students being rapidly trained to assist with this crisis. Surely the government and councils should also be turning to the 600,000 council workers made redundant in the last decade - from youth centres, Sure Start centres, schools and social services.
These workers know their local communities and could play a vital role in ensuring the needs of the vulnerable, children and their families are met.
Labour councils and the trade unions should use their platforms to coordinate the community response to this crisis - and lead a fight for the immediate resources needed, linked to reversing all cuts and privatisation.
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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal
The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.
The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.
The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.
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In The Socialist 18 March 2020:
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns