• Savannah Fishel

Covid-19: 'The Great Exposer'

The world has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic[1], and the people of Britain are calling out for radical change.


When considering the nation’s all-consuming reaction to Covid-19, it is useful to look at pandemic history. The Black Death killed almost half of all British people in the 14th Century. The influenza virus which emerged in 1918 killed nearly 250,000 people in the UK, infecting one third of the world’s population, and yet during the General Election of the same year, it barely featured in discourse.


Covid-19 is not on this mortality scale and yet dominates political and public dialogue, thrusting many of Britain’s pressing issues onto centre stage. The virus has served by no means as ‘The Great Equaliser’, but instead, as ‘The Great Exposer’. Covid-19 has revealed society’s weak points, such as the lack of resilience in our public services, stark race and economic inequality, and the grim reality of our social security (or insecurity), awakening more people to society’s lack of safety nets, for example the five-week wait for Universal Credit, or that statutory sick pay is not enough to live off.


Previously side-lined issues, such as the treatment of our key workers, have finally attained mainstream media attention. For a long time, nurses have experienced unjust policy such as drastic pay cuts, trainees paying to work and failing to have acuity-based staffing, whilst their voices are disregarded by politicians[2]. Meanwhile, our social care workers, classified as ‘unskilled’, work long hours providing critical care to the most vulnerable, performing complicated and intimate tasks requiring unswerving empathy, whilst resources are pushed to breaking point. The recent success of extending migrant visas for frontline workers should be celebrated, but it has highlighted the wider problem of our hostile immigration policies. The Immigration Health Surcharge essentially means that migrants, who may have lived in the UK and paid taxes for almost their entire life, pay twice for access the NHS[3][4].


In times of disaster, such as pandemic and war, governments have transformed themselves in order to survive, spending money in the necessary areas and rapidly creating new infrastructures. Epidemics triggered radical reforms across the late 19th Century, and the Ministry of Health was founded after the 1918-1919 influenza outbreak.


We must push our leaders for action, not words, as Covid-19 cannot respond to rhetoric, no matter how powerful it may be. It is not inspirational speeches from our Prime Minister or Queen giving us hope and confidence, but instead, scientific evidence, track-and-trace systems, and the courageous work of our frontline. We must look ahead, driving reform to prevent further tragedy. Covid-19 has amplified the politics of our healthcare, but crises throughout history have shown us what we can achieve with political will. Now is the time for pledging fair wages and working conditions for our key workers, a new settlement for our creaking social care system, and developing social security schemes which genuinely work for those in need. Now is the time for concrete commitments.


Covid-19 has been opportunistic in increasing engagement in the parlous state of our public services, and the investment required. Its domination of political and public discourse has revealed an appetite for radical action from our government. When we mobilise, we can achieve transformative results. We cannot let this opportunity for historical transformation slip away.


[1] Or, more accurately, the SARS CoV 2 virus which has caused the worldwide disease pandemic known as Covid-19. From this point I shall use the phrase Covid-19 for the sake of simplicity. [2] https://www.nursesunited.org.uk/about/ [3] https://latitudelaw.com/news/immigration-health-surcharge-explained/ [4] After significant pressure, the government has recently agreed to make migrant NHS and care workers exempt. No details yet on the scope or timetable.


Savannah is a graduate from the University of Oxford, working for a non-partisan political campaign movement at the time of writing. Her key areas of interest include political philosophy, migration and current government policy. For more of Savannah's work, see: www.thinkitforward.co.uk

The student project covering international relations and foreign affairs

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