Covid is not a map reader. The only way to crush the curve is uniform restrictions

Jon Trickett
©️ Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

No Holding Back exists as an organisation to give voice to all those communities in Britain that are being held back. They are to be found everywhere: in the seaside towns, the post-industrial communities in the North and elsewhere, the fishing communities, or in the most deprived areas of the inner cities. They make up millions of people in our country.

For too long, these groups have been ignored as their relative economic and social decline continued. They have been betrayed by a privileged elite group whose decisions dominate our political and economic structures. The primary objective of this golden closed circle has been to promote their own cause rather than that of a more socially just settlement for everyone. This situation is unacceptable. It is time to turn up the volume.

Today, we publish our detailed and forensic analysis of the Covid situation. Obviously, the virus attacks the same physiological attributes that every human being possesses. In this sense, it is a ‘great leveller’. Every human being is susceptible. But we have not all been subject to the same intensity of illness. We know that the virus has a greater impact on older people, ethnic minorities and those with underlying conditions. It is more likely to affect deprived communities, whose public services have been underfunded or cut, and those in low-paid insecure work, especially in frontline key worker roles.

Look at the figures. They are quite staggering. As the Office for National Statistics revealed, in England the age-standardised mortality rate of deaths involving Covid in the most deprived areas was 128.3 deaths per 100,000 people – more than double the mortality rate in the least deprived areas (58.8 deaths per 100,000).

Let’s be blunt about it: you are more than twice as likely to die if you have Covid if you come from a more deprived area. Why is this? To put it simply, this Tory government has attacked the physiological resilience of individuals living in poverty. They have reduced the resilience of communities with a decade of their ideological austerity. They have dismantled public services, kicked away community support networks and overseen an economy of low-paid, insecure jobs.

This all happened before anyone had even heard of the pandemic. But the actions of the government have made the situation worse. They have done so for three reasons. First, because they are blind to the deep divisions in our society. Second, because they want at all costs the economic dominance of the city of London. Third, because they are ideologically committed to individualistic solutions rather than us all working together in unison to defeat a common enemy such as the pandemic.

Our report today shows that the Conservatives’ differential use of lockdown is deeply damaging economically, unjustified and likely to make the situation worse. They have locked down almost the whole of the North of England for months without any attempt to put in place the massive regional aid necessary to counteract the effects of the restrictions. But they have placed much of the South East and London into Tier 2, notwithstanding the fact that our analysis shows there is no epidemiological justification for this decision.

In this part of the country, the trajectory of the virus is upwards, whilst in the North there is now a downward curve. Self-evidently, Covid is not a map reader. It does not know that it ought to stop at M25. The only way to crush the curve is uniform restrictions that treat the country as one. Treating the North more strictly has ultimately led to higher infections for the South due to delayed tiering, with London and the South East now the fastest-growing areas for the virus.

Boris Johnson was quite prepared to impose a 67% salary for furloughed workers in the North, but then increased it to 80% furlough when the South was involved. Coupled with the resolve to put the London economy first at any cost to human life, this confirms that the government prioritises the economy of the financial centre of London ahead of held-back communities. Our report clearly shows in detail that while the government talked of levelling up the North and elsewhere in the country, really it is levelling down through its negligent and cavalier attitude to held-back communities.

Johnson is not fit to hold the highest political office in the land. He has allowed the pandemic to rip through our most vulnerable communities. But his party is just as bad. The Commons is being presented with two alternative routes by the Conservatives: either more bumbling by the Prime Minister, or a right-wing, ‘you’re-on-your-own’ option from the rebels.

Given the scale of the crisis, it is time to put aside our differences. We need a unified Labour Party with a unifying offer to the country as a whole. To the held-back areas, we need a bold offer that suggests we can fight the virus and then rebuild on a new basis. To the more prosperous areas, we need to explain that the deeply ingrained presence of the virus in deprived places presents a real and present danger to everyone, not least because our health service may not be there for you if you catch the illness or if you need treatment from some other malady.

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