WE’RE living in unprecedented times. Covid-19 has exposed the true damage of a decade of ideologically driven austerity measures and relentless privatisation.
We see the human impact of political policies, where so many people have insecure and exploitative employment, and of low wages, with many living in poverty.
As Northern regional secretary of Unison, I know the extraordinary effort and dedication that Unison members across the region are making, as they respond to the huge challenges posed by the pandemic.
They’re delivering services in hospitals, schools, social care, police and justice, utilities, transport and community voluntary services day in, day out.
Years of austerity have meant unsustainable funding cuts to all our essential services, right across north-east England.
Some of the biggest reductions in local government funding have been at a time when demand for services is growing.
Local councils are increasingly having to make difficult choices and it will soon become impossible to meet the challenges of providing vital services without more money from government.
Everywhere communities are witnessing the consequences of a cut-to-the-bone public sector, and the catastrophic failings of privatising social care.
Unison has launched a campaign for a national care service, which would transform this fragmented and crisis-ridden part of the health and social care system.
The global health pandemic has shone a spotlight on cash-strapped and understaffed public services.
It’s shown how undervalued care workers are, and that a model that puts profit before people is not one that can adequately respond at a time of crisis.
Improved regulation and government oversight, better staff pay, stringent UK-wide professional standards, robust workers’ rights, and strategic long-term investment could help create a resilient care system that mirrors the NHS.
Now is the perfect time too for the government to build on the huge public support shown for the NHS by giving health workers across Britain an early pay rise.
A fair wage increase would help staff feel valued and would boost the economy as health workers spend the extra money in their pockets on local high streets.
Wage increases would enable the NHS to hold onto experienced workers and recruit the new staff to fill its many vacancies.
It’s clear to see who the key workers are — those people who continue to work tirelessly in the most challenging of circumstances.
But a very large number of these are the lowest paid in society. They’re living with precarious employment, on zero-hours contracts and with little job security.
Despite this, they’ve displayed astonishing compassion and commitment to continue to provide care and support to others at their time of need.
In contrast, what we see from central government is astonishing ineptitude.
Key workers shouldn’t have to choose between going to work and looking after their families and their own safety because of a lack of personal protective equipment, such as face masks and gloves.
The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of unions committed to supporting workers and speaking up for them about the challenges they’re facing.
In these uncertain times, it’s no wonder people are flocking to join unions like Unison.
Unions play a vital role helping those worried about losing their jobs and supporting their families.
Unison will continue to applaud all key workers providing essential services and demand the government respect these essential and skilled staff who have kept our communities going.
We’ll also keep on protecting public services, supporting the lowest paid and ensuring people earn a decent wage.
To quote the motto of the Durham miners: “The past we inherit, the future we build.”