As the lockdown, with its social isolation and social distancing, wears on, I am finding my emotions rising to the surface more insistently than usual. The broadcast media seem at times deliberately to set out to play on those emotions with their extensive and insistent interviews with the bereaved members of the families of those who have been killed by Covid-19. The cameras linger just that little bit too long on the anguished faces of the partners and children of those who have died as their fortitude wears out and they break down in tears. One expects families to be grieving after the deaths of loved ones, what I hadn’t anticipated and have found equally moving has been the manifest grief of the managers and staff of care-homes who have been interviewed after the deaths of residents whom they have cared for and clearly loved. It doesn’t, however, take very long for sympathy to mutate into impotent fury that they should have lost residents they care for very deeply as a result of the extraordinary negligence and incompetence of those responsible for Health and Social Care in this country who allowed elderly residents of care homes to be discharged from hospitals back into those care homes without being tested for Covid-19.
The anger is compounded when those responsible have themselves filmed ostentatiously ‘clapping for carers’ at 8.00pm on a Thursday evening by way, supposedly, of thanking them for the difficult and dangerous role they are playing during the pandemic, and then walz along to Parliament on Monday morning to support an Immigration Bill which makes it abundantly clear that those same care workers aren’t really wanted or needed in this country. There are 122,000 vacancies in the care sector at present, not including the gaps left by the 150 or so care workers who have died of Covid-19. But prohibitive, and wholly unjustified, visa charges are currently in place to deter non-EU foreign care workers from coming now, and as soon as the Brexit transition period comes to an end on December 31st a shiny new salary-threshold based imitation of the Australian points-based immigration system will be put in place to keep them out altogether. Roughly 25% of care-workers in UK are currently not British and without them, as those directly responsible for managing the homes know all too well, the whole sector will collapse. But our xenophobic Brexiteer government doesn’t like foreign ‘low-skilled workers’, and one can only presume that the fantasy-land they live in is populated by hundreds of thousands of UK citizens champing at the bit to fill all the existing and prospective vacancies that will ensue.
Michael O’Leary, the boss of Ryanair, interviewed by the BBC this morning, referred to the Government’s bizarre decision to start implementing a two-week quarantine on anyone flying into the UK at this juncture (there’s nothing like waking up to a good idea two months too late) as ‘idiotic and unimplementable’. Any policy that aims to keep poorly paid health and care workers who aren’t British out of this country, and imagines that our NHS and care sector will survive, is equally idiotic and unimplementable. The notion that poorly paid nurses and care-workers are ‘unskilled’ is, of course, as stupid as it is offensive. The equation of salary-level with skill is the kind of stupidity one should probably expect of a government led by an Old Etonian who recently acknowledged that his life has just been saved by the skills of two foreign ‘unskilled workers’, but is apparently blind to the contradiction. Anyone who wants an example of ‘unskilled workers’ has only to look at Boris (although ‘worker’ is an exaggeration in his case) and Priti Patel, his Home Secretary, who, in spite of their £140k plus salaries, are manifestly lacking the skills needed to do the jobs they have maneuvered themselves into. Of all the sickening features of the whole sorry post-Brexit immigration debate, perhaps the least edifying is having to watch the spectacle of Priti Patel, whose parents immigrated to UK after being expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, frantically pulling the ladder up behind her.