We cannot allow a post-crisis return to ‘business as usual’

Sienna Rodgers
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“I did everything I possibly could to win both elections,” Jeremy Corbyn has told the BBC. “I was denounced as somebody that wanted to spend more money than we could possibly afford… I didn’t think that it would take only three months for me to be proved absolutely right,” the outgoing Labour leader added. Some have been quick to criticise Corbyn for politicising the coronavirus crisis in this new interview (although everything is political), and others have accused him of having a vain or ‘sour grapes’ attitude. Whatever your view, his comments raise touch on key questions for Labour and the left around the long-term impact of the pandemic.

The Chancellor has unveiled a new coronavirus spending package, this time targeting the self-employed. The scheme will see anyone with profits below £50,000 be eligible for a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits up to £2,500 a month. This represents another huge spending commitment by the government that nobody could have foreseen. It could cost £10bn, according to the Resolution Foundation. However, we must note that there are devastating caveats: the funds will not be accessible until June, and those who entered self-employment within the last year will be excluded. Many will have to apply for Universal Credit, which is currently under unique pressure and can involve a five-week wait.

In a heartwarming moment, people across the country broke into applause to celebrate NHS staff and care workers at 8pm last night. On my street, people leaned out of their windows to clap their hands and bang pots and pans. It is often being said during this crisis that we are taking stock to evaluate what really matters, and those on the frontline must be top of the list. But an important role that Labour can play here is to remind people that this appreciation of public sector employees putting their lives on the line cannot merely consist of applause, and it cannot be short-term. We don’t just want to clap for our carers – we want fair pay for our carers, proper allowances for home carers, and indeed real power for all workers.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that our response to this crisis represents “a change in our politics”, and John McDonnell told BBC Radio 4 this morning that “the values of our society are changing”. Does increased government spending signal a fundamental shift in ideology? I am certain it does not, and you only have to observe the reluctance of the party in power to implement certain essential measures, such as increasing benefits and sick pay, to see that they only want crisis policies deemed easily reversible. Will people really remember these events, when health workers have actually been doing heroic things every day, long before this pandemic? I am a little doubtful, but this is where hope lies. We cannot allow ‘business as usual’ to follow this crisis as it did the financial crash.

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