As the UK officially reaches the grim milestone of 100,000 COVID related deaths, Thomas Morgan took a look at some of the easily avoidable mistakes made by the UK government over the last year.
The PPE crisis
Very early on in the pandemic, the PPE (personal protective equipment) crisis was a preview of what was to come. Officials in the run-up to the pandemic failed to stockpile essential PPE, causing numerous reports of health workers having to treat Covid patients without any PPE. Resulting in them putting themselves at risk. Since this, lawyers representing 450 relatives of covid victims have pushed Boris Johnson to hold a public inquiry. The most chilling aspect of the PPE fiasco is that it has now emerged that the UK missed three opportunities to join the EU scheme to bulk buy PPE. The government’s excuse you may ask? They didn’t receive the email with the invitation.
Free school meals scandal
The free school meals crisis was probably one of the most easily avoided crises in the pandemic, so when the government initially refused to continue providing money for free school meals during the summer holidays, it took Manchester United star Marcus Rashford’s campaign to prick the conscience of the government. This eventually ended in a U-turn after members of Boris Johnson’s party privately expressed discomfort at being painted as the party that is refusing to feed hungry children. In the end; the scheme cost a mere £120m, a significantly smaller figure than the £80 billion used for the Governments
furlough scheme. The truth is that it was inevitable that given the economic fallout from the pandemic, and with unemployment rising, families would be struggling to put food on the table especially as so many children rely on free food parcels. The Government knew this but it chose not to act until it was pressured to.
Boris Johnson’s leadership in general
Boris Johnson’s personal leadership during the last year must be looked at as one of the reasons the government failed in multiple areas. In early 2020 when the Government was first made aware of an emerging virus from china, it was widely reported and later confirmed in a TV interview (by cabinet minister Michael gove) that the Prime Minister missed 6 top-level meetings of the government’s COBRA committee (a crisis management meeting usually chaired by the prime minister), instead Boris Johnson was said to be at his private country residence finalising his divorce so he can propose to his now fiance Carrie Symmons.
The PMs refusal to take this crisis seriously from the beginning undoubtedly set the tone for how his government would later handle further crises, Johnson’s attitude towards the situation can be perfectly summed up when he said on 3 March that he was in a hospital shaking hands with coronavirus patients, of course the prime minister later realised that the pandemic must have the full attention of himself and his Government, but many believe this was too late the damage had already been done.
The treatment of students
The UK officially locked down on the 23rd March, 2 months before GCSE and A level exams were due to start. The government eventually cancelled exams but they replaced exams with teacher assessed grades. However, this ended in once another crisis where the algorithm that was chosen to assess the grades of students was severely miscalculated, causing anxiety to students, and some even missed out on University places. It took pressure from students themselves protesting for the government to finally amend this but in many cases, once again it was too late.
Arguably one group that has been overlooked the most during the pandemic are university students. The Government has not made any commitment to look at legislating to reduce fees for remote learning thus far, and no additional financial support package has been announced for students even though students heavily rely on temporary work in industries such as hospitality to get through there degree, instead, the government believes the means-tested Student finance maintenance loans are enough.
I simply ask The Government this; if the maintenance loans are enough why do many rely on paid work during their degree anyway? The reality is many students are now in a situation where they are stuck in rental contracts with private landlords although they are not using the property, and there is a brewing mental health crisis amongst students as the Government fails to offer clarity.
A year on the Education Department or The Government still gives the impression they do not have a clear long term plan with the schools being opened for one day in January 2021 and then closed nationwide the very next day.
Eat out to help out scheme
In the aftermath of the first lockdown, which a large percentage of the population complied with, The Government sought to boost economic confidence as consumer spending had been severely hit. With the UK being a service-based economy, it relies heavily on consumer spending. So when Chancellor Rishi Sunak decided to launch the government’s flagship eat out to help scheme, where The Government paid 50% of people’s meals, people did exactly that ….they ate out. Inevitably the scheme led to an increase of cases, completely undoing the work of the first lockdown, according to a University of Warwick study a sharp increase of cases emerged just one week after the scheme began.
Instead of taking responsibility for its part in the rise of cases, The Government decided to direct the blame for the rise in cases to young people, however, if you offer young people 50% of their meal they will utilise it, this is entirely on the government and once again this could have easily been avoided.
Unfortunately, we could not fit all of The Government’s mishaps in one article but here are some notable mentions.
We are now in February 2021 and The Government still does not have a full closure of the UK border implemented, unlike our European neighbours. Although people entering the UK now have to show a negative covid test, The UK should go further and should have taken these steps in March 2020.
Government ignoring SAGE advice for circuit breaker lockdown in October half-term
According to minutes from The Government’s scientific advisory committee, they advise that a circuit breaker lockdown over the October half term would be beneficial. The government ignored this and critics argue this may have set us back months. It is worth noting that The Government has always insisted it is following ‘science’ during the entirety of the pandemic.
The Christmas ‘Truce’
The government promised a 3 day window where restrictions would be eased over Christmas. Before having to abruptly abandon this idea, critics argue the public health messaging needs to be as consistent as it was in the first lockdown otherwise people will not comply.
All of these could have been easily avoided, and these crises undoubtedly placed further strain on the hardworking NHS, who have worked flat out for nearly a year now. But as we continue to battle this virus, hopefully in 2021 with the vaccine programme underway we can be optimistic about the prospect of returning to some form of normality soon.