The COVID-19 pandemic one year on: the need to revalue our public services
One year ago today, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 global pandemic. The last year has magnified the strengths and weaknesses of our societies. In Europe, it has exposed the fragility of public health systems, and the total lack of capacity to respond to such a shock. The tragedy is that this does not come as a surprise. Europe’s public service unions were protesting staff shortages, underfunding and inadequate resources long before the outbreak of the pandemic. When the first wave hit, it is no wonder that health systems and care homes were completely overwhelmed.
It is a sad reflection on neoliberal policies that it takes a watershed moment such as a global pandemic to acknowledge the need for well-funded public services and the workers that deliver them. But the last year has made the draw backs of privatisation and budget cuts an unavoidable fact, and there is now a broad understanding that we need a revaluing of the public sector. We cannot go back to the austerity policies of a pre-pandemic world – we must build back better. That is the message of the millions of public service workers across Europe on this milestone day.
The immediate priority is to strengthen public health and care systems. This requires public funding and an end to taxation policies that favour corporations and the rich. Governments must act here at both national and European level. We owe this to our health and care workers, many of whom are being treated for post-traumatic stress.
Just as there were over 100 strikes in the health and care sectors in Europe just before the outbreak of the pandemic, health and care unions will continue to be militant in demanding pay rises, better working conditions, increased staffing levels and support services.