22 April 2020
As our health service faces this unprecedented crisis, we can’t afford to forget that the NHS is a public service, not a charity. We must remember that it doesn’t run on kindness: it runs on public funds. It runs as a universal service that is there to protect all of our lives.
We have seen a huge outpouring of popular support for our NHS over the past weeks. From communal clapping every Thursday, to the 99-year-old veteran walking lengths of his garden, and the viral “Run for Heroes” campaign, people across the UK have been vocal in demonstrating love and gratitude for our health service. But we can’t let our clapping drown out the voices of the nurses and doctors who are raising the alarm about the fact that they are not equipped to face this pandemic. That they are being sent to work in makeshift aprons. That over 100 UK health workers have already died from coronavirus.
The government should collect taxes from the wealthy, not donations from the desperate. The super-rich are getting away with millions sitting in tax havens, while elderly people feel that they need to go to extraordinary lengths to raise money for essential equipment.
Richard Branson- the man who sued the NHS, has a net worth of $5 billion, and sits at the head of the company that has been awarded almost £2bn worth of NHS contracts over the past five years- pays no income tax and no corporation tax on Virgin Health. He is also the man who requested a £500 million bailout from the government this week.
The aforementioned ‘Run for Heroes’ campaign is hosted by Branson owned ‘Virgin Money Giving’, which claimed fees on all donations made before the 14th April. Seemingly without shame, private companies find means to syphon money away from our health service, even if it involves taking a cut of donations made in charity.
We must not be distracted from the fact that underfunding of the NHS is not an accident. It has been part of a political project, and is the result of ten years of active decisions made in the name of austerity. This can’t be undone through generous donations from our friends and families. Our government needs to restore the NHS by ensuring it is in full public ownership and is fully funded.
And NHS staff are not just heroes- they are workers. They are doctors, nurses, paramedics, porters, cleaners, support workers. None of them should have to feel they must go into work terrified and ill equipped. During and beyond this crisis, the respect we show them when we clap now must be translated into insourced contracts, safe working conditions, fair pay: security and dignity in work.
We need to show our support and solidarity with NHS staff, who are working bravely to save lives. But we can’t let this support become part of a story that erases the role underfunding and privatisation have played in worsening this crisis. We must hold on to our health care as a right, not a privilege: a public service, not a charity.