The spread of the viral infection COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has made clear the precarious nature of the UK economy. The problems are not new, but due to the virus impacting everyone with the same cause it becomes clear that government policy for the last ten years has greatly reduced the ability of the country to deal with the outbreak. The defunding of the NHS means that there was a crisis of bed availability even before the Coronavirus outbreak, which makes it almost inevitable that hospitals will be immediately swamped during the peak of cases nationally.
The number of people who are self-employed (often bogusly), low paid and reliant on credit means that should large sections of the economy close down, many will be unable to pay bills / rent and small & medium sized businesses could face bankruptcy.
Even a short period of economic stagnation could result in people choosing between foods and spending, with Universal Credit often taking months to attain.
Finally, the disjointed care system means that elderly and vulnerable people are given shorter slots with overworked staff contributing to further isolation and meaning problems for the vulnerable are not noticed until they need immediate medical attention. Whilst there has been some deplorable profiteering by some: hiking the prices of hand sanitiser and bulk buying things for resale, a significant number of people within communities are looking at ways they can support people who slip through the net and ensure anyone self-isolating does not suffer needlessly. People are talking about community kitchens delivering food to the elderly and to families who rely on free-school meals for their children should schools close.
It may come as a surprise to many that in Bolton such a service already exists, providing hot food but more importantly social interaction for many housebound residents, and a regular check in from someone who will be able to triage people whose condition is worsening.
The “Meals On Wheels” service is astonishingly facing cuts by Bolton Council. They argue that this is not a statutory service and that they have no legal duty to provide it. However, the government is calling on all over 70s to self-isolate for several months to reduce the risks to themselves and the health service. The government is invoking the spirit of war-time to get the elderly on board, but care services are already overstretched and large numbers of people may self-isolate.
The government needs to match the invocation of the Blitz Spirit with some of the organisation of the Ministry of Food. Not only should Meals On Wheels not be reduced, it should be expanded. Coordinated with social services, food banks and doctors surgeries Meals on Wheels should ensure that school closures, market slowdown and self-isolation do not force people to pay with their health or even their life due to a lack of preparedness for the crisis. The government needs the cooperation of the British people in order to effectively deal with Coronavirus, but in return for that cooperation it must acknowledge its own responsibility for cuts to funding leaving us much more vulnerable to the social and economic effects of the outbreak, and in turn it must provide sufficient funding to prioritise people before profit.