Rachel McGrath column: ‘Government actions have created an atmosphere of disenfranchisement for many’

The deputy chief executive of Northamptonshire Community Foundation reflects on a turbulent year and looks ahead to 2022 in her opinion column for Chronicle & Echo

By Rachel McGrath
Thursday, 30th December 2021, 1:42 pm
Rachel McGrath.
Rachel McGrath.

Hope is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last two years of this pandemic: hope for a way out of this public health crisis, and for a better future, especially for those amongst us experiencing financial hardship, inequality, ill health, discrimination and social injustice.

It seemed at some point in 2020, there had been a recognition through the Covid-19 pandemic that things drastically had to change: the appreciation of the essential role of a national health service, the role of key workers within our supermarkets, postal and delivery services, and frontline care and health workers who have kept us all going and supported the most vulnerable residents; the remarkable endeavours of local volunteers and charities to provide a safety net and lifeline for the most socially isolated and lonely, providing food aid, shopping services and online counselling and educational services for families, to name just a few actions of collective support.

There seemed a moment in time with the clapping for NHS and keyworkers, the Black Lives Matters movement response to the murder of George Floyd, the exposure of the trades that really keep us going in times of crisis, the community response to the pandemic, that there was recognition and hope for real change.

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However, sadly, government actions, from cutting the £20 Universal Credit uplift, not maintaining the radical homeless policy drive to house the homeless and not leading from the front through breaking their own lockdown rules, has created an atmosphere of disenfranchisement for many.

It was never going to be easy for any elected government to navigate its way through this public health crisis, but there have been some deeply unforgiving moments for many of the public.

A notable event was when the head of state, the Queen, sat alone during the funeral of her husband of 73 years, setting a clear example to the nation, whilst a government chose at times to break the rules and socialise with fellow elected members. As many have stated, it seems like one rule for the Government, and another for everyday folk.

We have read upsetting stories and many have experienced profoundly tragic life events of people not being able to say goodbye to loved ones, who died alone. This is simply not acceptable, when so many stuck by the safety rules to help keep as many people as possible protected from the virus.

If there had been consistency in the government setting a precedent of responsible action by example, this would have quelled the public misinformation and conspiracy theories that have surrounded the vaccination programme and safety rules.

Among all of this, we have had a taste of a return to a semblance of normality, the welcome return of arts and culture and hospitality industries, the return of theatre, music concerts, cafes, restaurants, clubs and pubs, museums and art galleries.

Whilst online businesses have thrived during this time, some businesses have really struggled and many sadly folded; what we have all desperately craved is a return to face-to-face interaction and connection.

Life has been profoundly changed for all of us. Whilst we continue to adjust to the uncertainty of the future, what is urgently needed is clear: global access to a vaccination programme, which means a waivering of vaccine patents – we are not free from Covid-19 and its variants until everyone has access to the vaccine globally; responsible leadership which sets an example of how to act at this crucially difficult time for many; a properly-resourced safety net so that inequality is dealt with during the economic and social recovery from this pandemic; and last, but not least, a message of hope that things will get better through collective community action which is properly funded and resourced.

As we move towards the third year of this public health crisis, I think of the words of the writer EB White: “Sailors have an expression about the weather.

“They say the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly…Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

I hope for all of us that 2022 is a year when the weather changes, and the sun finally breaks through the clouds of this pandemic.