With COVID restrictions now fully removed, and free testing abolished, the Tory government is letting the virus rip unimpeded. For the disabled and most vulnerable, this poses a deadly threat. We need to fight for control over our lives.
COVID restrictions across Britain have now come to an end. The Tories have shifted to their new ‘living with COVID’ policy. This means it is no longer compulsory to wear a face mask; the legal requirement to self-isolate has been lifted; and the provision of free lateral flow tests has stopped.
Although most will feel relieved that apparently the pandemic is now behind us, the reality is that COVID still remains a threat to people’s health and lives. For instance, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that, in the week up to 26 March, around 4.9 million people – 1-in-13 of the population – had coronavirus.
For disabled and chronically ill people, this means that a simple trip to the shops can be a major risk to their health. For some, that risk is too great. Without protections in place, disabled people in particular are going to suffer from living with this cruel ‘new normal’.
Gambling with lives
Disabled people have been through horrific experiences over the course of the pandemic. Immunocompromised people were forced to shield at the start of the pandemic, and many are still cut-off. This has made it difficult for them to access basic necessities, including food and medicine.
For so many, the situation is only getting worse. The number of adults living with disabilities and chronic illnesses has soared over the course of the pandemic. The ONS reports that nearly 14.2 million people in the UK between the ages of 16 and 64 are living with a health condition that has lasted more than 12 months. This is an increase of 1.4 million, affecting nearly 1-in-3 of all working-age adults.
Millions of people are now living with COVID-related conditions, such as long COVID and mental health issues. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities are more likely to suffer from COVID and its after-effects. Many of these people have seen their existing conditions deteriorate, or have even developed new long-term health problems.
Disabled people will therefore be disproportionately affected by the ending of all COVID restrictions. The unnecessary and avoidable deaths at the hands of the Tories will continue. For disabled people, this is a terrifying situation to be in.
But what is the real reason for the Tories’ ‘living with the virus’ policy? As is always the case under capitalism, the answer is profit.
Compulsory self-isolation for people with COVID meant that many people were not going to work. If large numbers are required to take sick leave, then this digs into the profits of the capitalists. The latest wave of COVID, for example, brought airports to a stand-still due to staff shortages.
Likewise, the government claims that they can no longer afford to provide free COVID testing, precisely at the time when cases are at record levels. Yet big businesses in Britain – including outsourcing parasites such as Serco who have received juicy COVID contracts – are making bumper profits as a result of the squeeze on workers.
Whilst nobody wants a return to lockdowns, some simple measures such as free testing, and a requirement to self isolate if COVID positive – combined with full financial support for those required to do so – would drastically alleviate the suffering of disabled people. This, in turn, would help limit the number of people who end up with long COVID, or other lasting effects from the virus.
But under capitalism’s insatiable drive for profits, workers – especially the most vulnerable – will continue to suffer at the hands of this criminal government.
Disabled and chronically ill people have fought against austerity before, and we will do so again. Organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have played a key role in organising protests against Universal Credit, for example. But we need to do more.
Disability activists must join up with workers in the labour movement. Our enemies are the same: the capitalist class that exploits us all. Our struggle is a class struggle.
Last year, the TUC called for long COVID to be recognised as a disability in order to prevent “massive” discrimination in the workplace. This is an important step to help protect workers against the bosses’ attacks.
To guarantee workers’ rights, however, and to genuinely meet the needs of everyone in society, we need to fight for socialist planned economy, under the democratic ownership and control of the organised working class.
By nationalising the banks and key industries, and kicking the profiteers out of healthcare, we could easily afford vital measures such as free COVID testing and fully-paid sick leave, and provide the necessary resources to save the NHS. These measures would benefit all workers, not just those with disabilities.
It is clear that capitalism – a system that puts profits above lives – cannot provide for disabled people. We need to take power out of the hands of the capitalists and take control of society ourselves.
Disabled lives are not expendable! Make the capitalists pay for this crisis!