What kind of Thanet do we want to live in after the coronavirus crisis?
BY NORMAN THOMAS, CHAIR OF SOUTH THANET LABOUR PARTY
One thing’s for certain — we can’t go back to how things were.
A poor area with high unemployment, low wages, insecure jobs, a crumbling NHS, and underfunded public services.
Of course, it’s too soon to say exactly how much Thanet has suffered from the virus — both from the loss of human lives and the impact on the economy,. But all the signs are that the price will be high — on both counts.
Let’s not mince words.
The evidence so far suggests that the government is to blame for our situation being much worse than it needed to be.
The slowness of its initial response, gross incompetence in providing health workers with personal protective equipment, hamfisted approach to testing and disgraceful failure to take control of the disastrous and deadly events unfolding at our care homes all add up to nothing less than criminal negligence.
As a result, we will almost certainly end up with a much higher death rate than most other countries in the world.
Much of this, tragically, we can now do nothing about, but we can start planning for the future. Things have got to change — and we need to work out what we need NOW.
First the NHS. Before the virus here in Thanet we had an underfunded hospital threatened with closure of its stroke unit and downgrading of its other emergency services.
After the virus we should have an excellent hospital with well-paid staff, fully equipped to meet ALL emergencies.
Before the virus, GPs in our area were a vanishing breed. After the virus we need more GPs spread throughout the area, with more time for their patients. We need good local access to treatment for mental health, too.
Before the virus, care for the elderly was patchily provided, often by private businesses and underpaid, overworked staff. After the virus we need the care homes to be part of the NHS, with national standards of care provided by properly paid workers.
Before the virus too many Thanet people struggled to survive on low wages with zero-hours or unfair contracts and poor working conditions. After the virus we need everyone to have proper contracts, with high minimum wages and good working conditions.
Before the virus we had an underfunded council struggling to provide the housing and other vital services we need.
After the virus I believe we need a new form of local government-funded on the basis of what we in Thanet need, rather than what can be raised in council tax, so we can all live in good homes with access to high-quality education and everything else essential to a thriving community, regardless of age, income or disability.
We should also have the resources to protect our beautiful green spaces and beaches, encourage tourism and lead the local battle to save the planet.
During the virus Thanet’s strong community spirit and tradition of volunteering has been a lifeline for many of the vulnerable, elderly and isolated among us. After the virus we must keep and build on that community spirit to foster a sense of grassroots independence, confidence and mutual aid.
Everyone, regardless of their ethnic or sexual identity, should feel welcome here.
You think the above is ambitious? You ask who’s going to pay?
Well, the government has shown us the way. When push comes to shove we can build hospitals in days, pay people when their work disappears, house the homeless and generally pour millions into stopping society falling apart. It’s a question of political will.
These are my ideas of what we need and you may have your own thoughts about the way ahead. But, whatever they are, let’s start debating them now.
After the virus we must have a better, healthier, Thanet — one that’s fairer for all. And if someone says we can’t afford it, let them tell us why.