Win isolation pay, win social solidarity

Submitted by AWL on 1 December, 2020 - 6:18 Author: Colin Foster

Over 60% of those applying for the Government’s meagre and ill-advertised £500-per-fortnight isolation pay are being refused in some areas, like Yorkshire and Humber, so the Guardian reported on 1 December.

Back in August, research found that fewer than 20% of those with confirmed Covid symptoms were self-isolating properly, and scarcely 10% of those who knew they were contacts of infected people. No-one knows about those due to self-isolate after travelling, or those who should stay home to look after self-isolating young children.

Isolation pay isn’t the only factor here, but it’s an essential one.

To curb the virus, the labour movement must fight for full isolation pay for all, and publicly-provided quarantine accommodation for people otherwise supposed to “self-isolate” in crowded housing.

Enforced covid-distancing — costly, but it’s the basic emergency measure against epidemics known since the Middle Ages at least — is going to be necessary for many months yet, even if everything goes well with the new vaccines.

The labour movement can’t hope to second-guess the experts on the best calibrations of enforced covid-distancing, though the new “tiers” system looks probably too light rather than too heavy, and the Tories’ half-promise that the “tiers” will end in February is foolish.

We can and must fight for the measures of social solidarity needed to generate grass-roots effectiveness under the top-down measures, and to minimise their harmful social effects.

Virus infections in Wales have levelled or maybe increased since its lockdown between 23 October and 9 November, which ended with cases below their peak but no lower than on 23 October.

Northern Ireland’s infections have continued to fall since its 16 October to 13 November lockdown, but it is on a new lockdown from 27 November to 11 December.

England’s lockdown between 5 November and 2 December looks like ending with some reduction in infection rates (they were levelling off even before the lockdown started). The reduction is smaller than from other lockdowns in Europe (France, Belgium, Ireland). Things look difficult.

We got here by follies in the summer like “eat out to help out”. The Tories’ latest gimmick, “mass testing”, is unlikely to help, and even good test-and-trace would have limited effect with infection rates as high as now. To enable test-trace to contribute later it must be taken out of the hands of Serco, Deloitte, G4S, and other profiteers, and made a public-health effort. At present many test-trace workers themselves don’t get isolation pay.

Universities must let students study online from home in January, and reimburse rent, or we will get a new infection surge as students travel back to campuses. Schools must be funded to reduce class sizes by rotas and extra buildings, to fix ventilation, to employ new regular staff.

Emergency public ownership (requisitioning) should bring private hospital facilities into the NHS, integrate social care into the public sector, and guarantee PPE supplies. NHS and care workers should get immediate pay rises.

The gaps in furlough provision must be filled, evictions banned, rents paused.

Social solidarity and equality are the necessary underpinning for enough people to know that when they observe the precautions they are taking care of others, and their individual efforts won’t be wasted by the misdeeds of a government focused on stunts and fat profits for its cronies.

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