Cambridge People’s Assembly protest ‘Covid outrages’
Cambridge branches of social justice and anti-austerity movements joined in a People’s Assembly protest in the centre of Cambridge yesterday (Saturday).
Keep Our NHS Public (KONP), People’s Assembly Against Austerity and Stop The War Coalition came together to voice their anger at the Conservative government’s financial decision-making,
The groups staged their socially distanced protest as a performance in city locations including King’s Parade and Fitzroy Street. In a mock Budget announcement, a performer representing the Chancellor of the Exchequer opened a red briefcase to reveal “money for my chums”. A line of boxes represented “empty promises”, including support and protection for workers, a safe return to schools, Covid-secure universities, properly valued key workers, Covid tests for all – “and the claim that we are all in it together”. Sacks carried messages stating where public money should be allocated, to areas such as NHS, carers, schools, support for the unemployed and key workers.
In particular, the groups highlighted the contracts handed to outsourcing giants Serco and SITEL, “who between them are set to be handed more than £850m in public money to deliver Covid-related services”. Most notoriously, this includes a contract for Serco to deliver the dysfunctional test-and-trace system, which has left many people unable to access tests – and some instructed to travel hundreds of miles while symptomatic with suspected Covid-19 to reach a test centre.
Jane, of Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity, said: “The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the incompetence of an out-of-touch government run by an old Etonian and multimillionaires. It has also shown us how a stripped-backed state hollowed out by a decade of austerity designed to destroy the public healthcare sector is unable to provide the most basic public health measures.
“Unlike other countries, which learned from the initial outbreak, this Tory government has squandered the opportunity to stop a second wave and continues to ignore the scientific advice, which says a short circuit-breaker lockdown could halve the number of deaths. Instead, Johnson and Hancock hand out contracts to their dodgy mates at Serco and co – the kind of shady characters you wouldn’t buy a used car from.
“I am a teacher, and I feel totally unsafe in the workplace – because the government failed to use the six-month school closure to expand school capacity by setting up temporary classrooms and taking on the 30,000 newly trained teachers who are currently out of work. Decision-making is left up to school managers – who simply do not have the public health expertise or resources to introduce reasonable measures. I know that my colleagues in the NHS face a disaster this winter due to the government’s failure to plan ahead – just months after the trauma of the PPE crisis back in the spring.
“The crisis also highlights the deep fissures in our society. It is those in the north and the Midlands who face the most stringent measures. This is because the Covid response has been run in a southern-centric way from Westminster, instead of being delegated to local public health teams who understand the needs of their own communities. It is those facing poverty and insecurity, alongside the black and ethnic minority population, who are suffering the most. We learned just this week that austerity has led to huge rises in child poverty in the north and Midlands, and the Covid response is set to compound that for a generation, deepening inequality in our already divided society.”
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity mass movement was founded in 2013 to oppose the then-coalition government’s programme of cuts to public services. Stop The War is anti-austerity, anti-racist and works to combat Islamophobia. KONP actively oppose the accelerating process of privatisation which it claims has increased under cover of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s time to stop giving public sector contracts to corrupt and incompetent private companies,” said The People’s Assembly Cambridge.