Austerity left UK unprepared for pandemic, warns TUC report

A report by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) claims that the UK’s years of austerity significantly impacted the country’s preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic. The TUC asserts that funding cuts left health and social care “dangerously understaffed,” reducing the sectors’ ability to respond effectively to the COVID-19 crisis. The report also highlights that pay caps and freezes contributed to staffing issues, hampering recruitment and increasing staff turnover.

The TUC states that almost every part of the public sector experienced “steep cuts,” damaging public services capacity. In 2020, when the pandemic began, per capita spending in areas such as social care, transport, housing, childcare, schools, higher education, police, fire services, and environmental protection was lower than in 2010. The TUC suggests that these cuts limited public services’ capability to effectively respond to civil contingencies and maintain essential activities like children’s education.

The report also notes that during the pandemic, workplace inspections and enforcement notices reached an all-time low as workplace risks increased. Funding for the Health and Safety Executive was 43% lower in 2021/22 than in 2009/10 in real terms, with staff numbers reduced.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak stated: “To learn lessons and save future lives, we must take an unflinching look at the choices made by our leaders in the years before the pandemic. In the NHS and social care, funding cuts put staff levels in the danger zone.”

Nowak added that cuts to social security pushed more people into poverty, making them more vulnerable to infection. He also noted that reductions in health and safety funding left workers exposed to employers who cut corners and put lives at risk.

“Austerity cost the nation dearly. It left us hugely unprepared for the pandemic, and it left far too many workers unprotected. The consequences were painful and tragic,” Nowak said.

The TUC’s report was published ahead of a joint press conference with the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group about the lessons they believe should be learned through the UK COVID-19 inquiry. David Cameron and George Osborne, prime minister and chancellor during the austerity years, have been called to provide evidence to the inquiry.

World News

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.