Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine

Subscribe

Subscribe to Holyrood
by Dani Garavelli
27 May 2022
Comment: The frontline heroes of the pandemic have been forgotten in the cost-of-living crisis

Comment: The frontline heroes of the pandemic have been forgotten in the cost-of-living crisis

One of the many lessons we were supposed to learn from the pandemic was the value of our lowest-paid workers.

Not long before Covid struck, Home Secretary Priti Patel set out the terms of the government’s post-Brexit immigration point system under which “low-skilled” foreigners would be denied the privilege of wiping the bottoms of our elderly and washing our hospital floors.

But then the country went into lockdown and – lo and behold – it turned out those were precisely the roles we depended on to keep society functioning. The carers who went on caring despite a lack of proper PPE; the till-operators who rang through the goods of shoppers too lazy to ensure their masks covered their noses; the delivery drivers who brought books and albums to relieve the tedium of days stuck indoors.

For a brief period, these “low-skilled” workers became “essential workers,” and we banged our pots and pans in gratitude.

Great crises engender great social change. After WWII, there was a concerted effort to wipe out poverty and hardship, which produced the welfare state.

So, what is the post-pandemic dividend for those who spent the last two years on the frontline? A cost-of-living crisis pushing many of them to the financial brink and a hefty dose of contempt from the party that swallied while the UK burned.

Any hope their contribution might be rewarded by, say, a pay packet commensurate with their worth has been extinguished. Instead, they have been told the answer to their money troubles is to take on more hours or find better-paid jobs.

Perhaps they could give up their agency work at Amazon and become merchant bankers? The possibility that the problem lies not with individual life choices but with capitalism’s distorted value system is never countenanced. Solving that would require structural change and those at the top would lose out.

That “work harder” suggestion, made by safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean, comes at a time when many are already holding down more than one job. But it isn’t even the worst of the victim-blaming.

Tory politicians appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to see who can demonstrate the greatest detachment from the lives of the people they represent. If it isn’t Boris Johnson taking false credit for providing free travel so pensioners who cannot afford to heat their homes can huddle on buses, then it’s Michael Gove, from the Ministry of Silly Voices, telling everyone to “calm down.”

I’d say there was an effort to rekindle the Dickensian notion of the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor, except it’s not clear the Tory party believes any poor person is “deserving” anymore.

Not content with allowing energy prices to rise by 54 per cent in April, Ofgem is now proposing four instead of two price cap reviews a year.

Still, according to Tory MP Lee Anderson, the blame for failing to make ends meet lies with people’s poor financial skills. As if simply turning up at a food bank wasn’t stigmatising enough, the one he volunteers at requires users to sign up for budgetary and cooking classes. Doubtless Anderson himself can rustle up a smorgasbord of tantalising dishes for 30p a day.

At the same time, these sanctimonious politicians – who have never been forced to cut their cloth – are turning their ire against anti-poverty campaigners who show them up by questioning their policies and providing practical help.

Campaigners like Jack Monroe who shares cheap but nutritious recipes with those on the breadline and receives a mountain of abuse for her troubles.

“What’s the difference between Jack Monroe suggesting budget recipes and a Tory MP [doing the same]?” was the question she faced last week. Monroe does not need me to answer that; she has written her own articulate blog.

But just for starters, she doesn’t humiliate those she supports. And she tries to get to the root of the problem – challenging the supermarkets, the politicians and the system – rather than merely providing a sticking plaster.

Anderson accused Monroe of making a fortune off vulnerable people while he gave time and money to the food bank for free. It’s a comment which underestimates what she does gratis, and suggests – yet again – that people, other than MPs, do not deserve to be paid for their labour.

The same types of comments have been made about footballer Marcus Rashford; but stand him next to the Prime Minister and I know who I’d rather see rewarded.

You can feel Monroe’s outrage, just as you can feel the outrage of journalist-turned-financial campaigner Martin Lewis, who last week apologised for swearing at an Ofgem background briefing.

They’re right to be outraged. There is no other sane response to a government that takes and takes and takes, giving nothing back; to a government whose aspirations for its own citizens appear to run no higher than that they should eke out an existence on 50p bags of pasta. 

Except, of course, to vote it out of power.

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Subscribe

Popular reads
Back to top