The Scottish Government’s new ‘Framework for Decision-Making‘ document is worth 20 minutes of your time. It sets out a sound set of principles in which to move forward on the public health side, based on learning from best international practise and with the right values at its heart. There is no talk of “flattening the curve” anymore. Instead: “We are clear that an assumption that there is a proportion or section of the population that it is safe or acceptable to allow to be infected forms no part of the Scottish Government’s policy or approach.” There is a set of indicators for what success looks like, and a clear idea of how to get there through a contact tracing, testing and isolation system and strict physical distancing measures even after lockdown ends.
As Common Weal head of policy & research Craig Dalzell, who proposed such a contact tracing, testing and isolation system a few week ago, has said, while this is substantial progress, it is a not an “action plan”.
“It won’t count for much until the contact trackers are recruited and the testing capacity is put in place,” he adds.
So the Scottish Government now needs to get on with the work of implementing these principles in practise, and it needs to do so while preventing any slacking in the current lockdown measures in place at the moment. Source received two reports from workers in the construction trade following the publication of this document yesterday, one from Dundee and one from Edinburgh, of plans to reopen sites in early May on work that clearly is non-essential. The Scottish Government’s new document is absolutely clear that Scotland is not yet ready for this, but it appears if somewhere down the chain of communication some heads of major property development companies have got a different message.
Then, there is the economic side of this crisis. While ‘Framework for Decision-Making’ does address this, it is not nearly as comprehensive a set of principles to move forward as on the public health side, and has some clear weaknesses. For instance, while the document finds that “the damaging effect on poverty and inequality” from the crisis “may be profound”, it doesn’t set out a clear aim of tackling poverty in the economic response to the crisis. Ditto with unemployment: some “closures and job losses have been inevitable,” the report finds, but medium to long-term we must be clear that unemployment is not inevitable, just as it is not inevitable that the virus will spread. We need to think about the economy in the same way as we think about public health: as something determined by human action, and which is therefore highly malleable depending on the decisions we make.
It is positive that the document contains a clear statement of opposition to austerity. It says: “The austerity driven response to the 2008 financial crash did not work and worsened the inequality that was part of its cause; we must not repeat those mistakes. Inequality is also worsening the outcomes for those people impacted by the coronavirus. Our younger people deserve a fairer and more secure economic future.”
Correct, but we have actually seen austerity in Scottish Local Authorities’ response to this crisis already, and in the area of home care services no less, one that is crucial to public health. If the Scottish Government is clear that this is a failed model, what is it doing to put an end to this now?
We need a similar type of document focused on the economic side of this crisis, and it needs to state clearly that rising poverty is not inevitable and that mass unemployment is not inevitable, and that the number one priority of the economic response will be to prevent this. Unfortunately, the make-up of the Scottish Government’s economic recovery group is worrying. In an analysis of who’s on it on Bella Caledonia yesterday, George Kerevan finds that members include: the chairman of a feudal land estate and an ex-banker; the owner of a private island (not Branson) and another ex-banker; a university principal on £342,200 per year; a former chief executive of a property development-mad local authority and now on the Board of SSE; and an Oxford University economist who is sceptical of the benefits of wind energy.
This is not promising. The Scottish Government has come to a better understanding of the public health response required through diversifying the voices it listens to. The scientific advisory group launched last month, which clearly has had a big influence on this new document, has within it staunch critics of the UK Government, like Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh.
Sridhar has commented that she thinks a key problem in the UK Government’s public health response was “class group-think”: “modellers all with similar background/similar training had major blind spots. All senior and not used to being challenged or listening.”
If that is true of public health, why is it not true for economic policy? If the make-up of that recovery group does not look like a recipe for class group-think, I’m not sure what does.
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