With their new ‘Better Health’ campaign, the Tories are once again looking to shift the blame for their callousness and incompetence onto the working class. But it is they who are responsible for the death of thousands.
The Tory government’s criminal response to the coronavirus pandemic has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.
From the start, Johnson and his out-of-touch ministers have tried to shift the blame for their failings onto the backs of ordinary people. The Tories’ latest trick is to insinuate that overweight people are to blame for their own deaths, with the recent launch of the government’s new “Better Health” campaign.
Shifting the blame
The campaign claims to “encourage millions of adults to kick start their health and reduce their risk of serious illness, including COVID-19”. This is to be achieved by promoting healthier eating and fitness. The aim is to help tackle the issue of high levels of obesity, especially amongst young people.
Although it does not claim that obese people are more likely to contract coronavirus, the campaign web page states: “Obese people are significantly more likely to become seriously ill and be admitted to intensive care with COVID-19.”
This is a subtle but clear shifting of blame. We are led to believe that the tens of thousands of “excess deaths” are not due to the litany of errors made by the Tory government, all in the interests of profit. Instead, they are simply due to people getting ill in the first place!
We are supposed to forget about the immense strain on the NHS, caused by years of privatisation, austerity, and bureaucratic mismanagement. We are supposed to forget about the complete lack of preparation for a pandemic, including a shocking lack of PPE stockpiles. And, of course, we are supposed to forget that the government delayed imposing a lockdown, whilst pursuing its ‘herd immunity’ strategy.
— Palatinate (@PalatinateUK) August 11, 2020
This is also part of a long-term trend of public health messaging around obesity – a consistent attempt to blame individuals for their own poor health.
But widespread obesity and poor health aren’t down to individual failings, as the right-wing media and Tory government say. They’re caused by capitalism.
At root, obesity is a class question. The data shows there is an overwhelming correlation between obesity and poverty, with obesity twice as high in the most deprived areas of the UK than in the least deprived areas.
This is caused by numerous factors, including precarious work, long working hours, and low incomes. With processed, less nutritious food typically far cheaper and quicker to prepare than more nutritious food, the health consequences are obvious.
Whilst the rich can afford the best equipped gyms, personal trainers, and fitness equipment, millions of workers can barely afford to pay their rent and bills. And after working a ten hour day and having to care for a family, going for a run is the last thing on many people’s minds.
Healthy profits over healthy people
This has been exacerbated over the last 10 years, with workers being made to pay for the crisis of capitalism. Austerity and attacks on the welfare state, combined with worsening conditions of work, have contributed massively to a decline in good health.
Since 2010, life expectancy overall has flatlined. But for the poorest it has even begun to decline. The present crisis has only added more fuel to the fire. For instance, child malnutrition has doubled since the start of the year.
Clearly – despite what the rich would have us believe – poor health is not down to lifestyle choices, moral failure, or laziness. Blaming and shaming individuals, however, is extremely profitable for those at the top, including the owners of the multimillion pound dieting and fitness industries.
Of course, instead of actually addressing the factors behind obesity – something that would eat into the profits of the rich – the Better Health campaign aims to simply ‘nudge’ people towards healthier living. This is to be achieved through adverts, the promotion of fitness apps, and discounts to weight loss clubs.
The Better Health campaign is – surprise surprise – partnered with Weight Watchers, an international company that makes millions in profits each year. As ever, capitalism is not equipped to truly deal with the problems it creates. But it can always find ways to make money from them.
Trim down the fat cats
This campaign is yet another cynical attempt at divide-and-rule. We must be clear: it is the Tories and bosses who are responsible for rising COVID-19 cases and deaths, not overweight people.
We can see these same divisive tactics also in their racist insinuations. For example, the campaign explicitly identifies BAME people as “disproportionately affected by obesity, as well as COVID-19”, without explaining why this might be the case.
It is crucial that the labour movement redoubles its efforts against these pernicious Tory tactics. We must fight to lay responsibility for the pandemic and its impacts not only at the feet of the Tories, but with the capitalist system that they represent.