Like many, I’ve felt fear, anger and sorrow during the last few months. Fear for those at the very sharpest end of inequality, for BAME people, for key workers, for those surviving domestic violence and abuse and for young people. Anger at the immense greed of those who are determined to hang onto their wealth at the cost of their employees’ health and at rich businessmen happy to run to the Government for support while they pay fat dividends to shareholders. I won’t name names, as the list, unfortunately, is growing longer by the day. Sorrow at the decades of high levels of inequality, compounded by a threadbare social security blanket and a decade of cuts that have torn the social fabric of our lives to pieces.
All this in the face of a somewhat belated appreciation of those who clean our streets and hospitals, those who nurse and care for our children, disabled people, the sick or elderly and those who keep our society functioning. As we’ve come to see, the value of a key worker is not reflected in their salary or their status, when they are often paid at less than one per cent of the average FTSE 100 CEO.
We’ve also seen the return of the narrative ‘we’re all in it together’, as trite now, as it was during a decade of cuts. This attempt to pretend that inequality doesn’t exist, to pretend that being poor doesn’t affect your ability to protect yourself and to ignore the effects of the social determinants of health. Tragically we see this in the pattern of those dying, not just here in the UK, but across the globe, the poorer are much more at risk. Often they are forced to work, live in intergenerational and overcrowded households, and have little if any savings.
But like the story of Pandora’s box, I have also seen hope fly on somewhat fragile wings. I’ve seen the Government implement many of the measures we’ve been calling for and I’ve seen communities come together. The Government has shown that it can act swiftly and that it can redistribute resources when needed; the homeless can be housed, services can be funded and children with No Recourse to Public Funds can be given free school meals.
Many of the issues we have highlighted over the years are being discussed and we are seeing some action taken. A few CEOs are taking a pay cut, wealth taxes and Universal Basic Income are routinely being discussed, as well as conditionality on corporate bailouts. The connection between health inequalities and resilience to catastrophe is there for all to see. We believe that now is the time to keep the pressure up, so that we can #BuildBackBetter for a fairer society, where everyone can flourish. We cannot continue to put profit before people, we must have a bold vision and we must ensure that all live a dignified life. We will not go back to the ‘normal’ that was so broken.
By Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director, The Equality Trust