We are definitely not all in this together, as the disadvantaged know only too well

Posted By: April 18, 2020

Patrick Murphy. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, April 18, 2020

Political leaders tend not to know much about public health.

If they did, they would stop spreading the myth during the coronavirus pandemic that we are all in this together. We are not.

A basic law in public health states that pre-existing social conditions tend to get worse during and after a crisis. (Remember the financial crisis when the poor got poorer and the banks were bailed out?)

If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that the disadvantaged and deprived here, and worldwide, are suffering most and will continue to do so after the crisis ends. Welcome to the world of pandemic illusion.

We do not have to look far for evidence. The Food Foundation reports that 1.5 million Britons did not eat for a whole day last week because they had no money or access to food. Three million Britons live in households where someone has been forced to skip some meals. A similar problem exists here in the north, but we have no idea how many people are going hungry.

Meanwhile, government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg’s investment firm advises its clients that coronavirus offers “supernormal” profits for investors, because “market dislocations of this magnitude rarely happen.” Mr. Rees-Mogg is a devout Catholic. He would also appear to be a devout capitalist. (Can you be both? If so, how? If not, which one should you give up?)

One London hedge fund reportedly made £2.4 billion (yes, billion) by betting on a global economic shutdown. That would buy a lot of personal protective equipment.

When it comes to profit versus the common good, profit tends to win. That explains why we have to buy protective equipment from China: western capitalism outsourced its demand for goods to areas of cheap labor.

One of the few to recognize that we are not all in this together is Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. He suspects that the coronavirus will worsen inequality, “but that is our choice as a nation and as a world”. (The Catholic Church appears to be focusing instead on the next world during this crisis. One member of the Irish hierarchy suggested we might read Isaiah, Chapter 25.)

Welby was too polite to point out that in addressing the nation (even though Britain has three nations), the Queen, as head of the Church of England, did not suggest opening her 775 rooms in Buckingham Palace for patients or NHS workers.

Nor did she mention the 31 other royal residences. Should the head of Britain’s established Christian Church consider Christian behavior? Of course not. Sure, aren’t we are all in this together?

This concept of collective suffering not only disguises serious social divisions in society, but it also allows political leaders to divert from their failings. With a population of 66 million, Britain has had over 13,000 deaths from coronavirus. South Korea, with 50 million people, has had 230 deaths. The Tories need a lot of diverting.

In the US, the absence of affordable healthcare highlights social inequalities, as evidenced by a disproportionately high death toll among ethnic minorities. But Trump says that Americans must unify as one nation. Indeed.

Meanwhile, instead of political leadership at Stormont, two increasingly uninspiring women engage in perpetual and pointless arguments. These reached new heights of absurdity when Sinn Féin opposed the British army delivering medical supplies and then, Trump-style, changed their mind and said the army could stay. (It sounds like a brief history of the Troubles.) In the end, sectarianism just distracts from unfairness in society.

In her speech, the Queen said that we will meet again. We might, but if inequality persists, it will be a waste of time. The end of World War II introduced the welfare state by addressing housing, education, health, employment, and poverty. What better way to mark the end of this pandemic than by re-launching the welfare state with massive public investment (paid for by profits from hedge funds and Rees-Mogg’s investment firm)?

You see, after all, we have been through, if we ever do meet again, we need to recognize that there is a better way of doing things.