At the time of writing 14,576 people have died in hospital in the UK due to Covid-19. In addition many many have died from Covid-19 in the community. A growing number of health, and social care, and other public sector professionals are losing their lives after contracting the virus in the course of their work. Each person who has died was unique. They had stories, hopes, fears, and plans. We remember those who have died and their loved ones.
On top of their natural, raw grief after the death of a loved one, many people will also be grappling with the awful thought that their loved one’s death may have been preventable. There has been a gross shortage of personal protective equipment for frontline staff. And a gross shortage of tests. Both of which would have helped stem the spread of the virus.
In wider society it feels as if things are being turned upside down. Our lives, our short-term plans, certainly. But there is also a sense that our priorities and values are turning upside down, in an unexpected but very positive way. We are feeling frightened and vulnerable in the face of the threat that is Covid-19, and that is making us much, much more appreciative of the people that keep us all going, many of whom are on or near the minimum wage; the cleaners, the supermarket shelf-stackers, the care workers, the healthcare assistants, the porters etc. Councils were asked to ensure, within a few days, that people sleeping on the streets were found somewhere to stay. A defence firm is making ventilators, soldiers have been helping to build hospitals. Gang members living near Cape Town in South Africa have reached a truce and are co-operating to deliver food to people in their communities. Ceasefires have been breaking out in different parts of the world. There is now a call for a global ceasefire.
The UK is a tiny country but in 2019 we had the sixth largest defence budget in the world: $54.8 billion (‘The Military Balance’, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2020). And yet we did not have sufficient masks, tests or ventilators. We had run down our public health services. There is an overriding sense that our priorities were wrong.
We all pay for that military expenditure through our taxes. Conscience: Taxes For Peace Not War campaigns for a change in the law so that citizens have the right to say they don’t want their taxes to go to the military, and to opt for that proportion of their taxes to go to peaceful, socially useful purposes instead. This would have a positive, tangible effect in terms of money that would have been spent on war preparation being re-directed. It would also have an arguably equally important positive effect in the wider message it would be giving. It would be saying we want our priorities to be very, very different. That we want to turn our priorities upside down.