UK’s Austerity Measures Made it Unprepared for Pandemic

UK’s Austerity Measures Made it Unprepared for Pandemic

The UK was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic due to years of austerity, according to a report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC report claimed that funding cuts led to health and social care being “dangerously understaffed” and reduced its capacity to respond to the crisis. The report also stated that multiple years of pay caps and pay freezes undermined safe staffing levels in health and social care, which impeded recruitment and increased staff turnover. Public services capacity was damaged by “steep cuts” to almost every part of the public sector, it added.

The pandemic began in 2020 when spending per capita was lower than in 2010 in social care, transport, housing, childcare, schools, higher education, police, fire services, and environmental protection, according to the TUC, the federation of trade unions. It claimed that this limited the ability of public services to contribute effectively to civil contingencies and to continue essential activities effectively, such as children’s education.

The report further added that during the pandemic, when workplace risks multiplied, workplace inspections, and enforcement notices fell to an all-time low. Funding for the Health and Safety Executive was 43% lower in 2021/22 than in 2009/10 in real terms, with staff numbers cut, it claimed.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said, “To learn lessons and save future lives, we must take an unflinching look at the choices made by our leaders in the years before the pandemic.” He added that funding cuts put staff levels in the danger zone in the NHS and social care. Cuts to social security pushed many more people below the poverty line, leaving them more vulnerable to infection, and cuts to health and safety left workers exposed to rogue employers who cut corners and put their lives at risk.

The report was released ahead of a joint press conference with the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group on Monday about the lessons they believe must be learned through the UK COVID-19 inquiry. David Cameron and George Osborne, prime minister and chancellor during the austerity years, have been called to provide evidence to the inquiry.

The consequences of austerity were painful and tragic, Nowak said. The inquiry is an opportunity to understand why the public services need to be rebuilt so they can protect the public in future crises.

The TUC report revealed that austerity measures left the UK unprepared for the pandemic. Funding cuts led to health and social care being understaffed, and public services’ capacity was damaged by steep cuts. The report also stated that funding cuts put staff levels in danger zones, and cuts to social security left vulnerable people more susceptible to infection. The inquiry is an opportunity to rebuild public services so they can protect the public in future crises.


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